The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
Although much-maligned by social media marketers, in the main Google’s own social network – Google+ – is in fact a very powerful tool to promote your own brand and authority if used correctly. Google+'s strength comes from its integration with other Google products such as Google Search, and this is where Google Authorship can help authors, journalists and other individuals make their mark on the web.
In layperson’s terms, Google Authorship couples content hosted on the internet with its actual author. This connection is then displayed within Google Search results in the form of an image and byline next to the relevant search result. For example:
The byline links back to the author’s profile on Google+ so that people interested in the article can find out more about the person cited.
In addition, the byline displays the number of Google+ "Circles" that author has been added to. In brief, Google+ Circles is analogous to Connections on LinkedIn, Friends on Facebook or Followers on Twitter; it demonstrates the following that the author has on Google+ itself. The more Circles an author has been added to on Google+, the more influential or trusted as a source they may appear to be, or be judged to be.
The benefits of Google Authorship
There are numerous benefits to embracing Google Authorship, not all of which are immediately apparent. Here are just some of them:
How to implement your own Google Authorship
Even though Google has attempted a degree of automation with Google Authorship, it is a feature you really have to take manual ownership of if you want it work correctly with your online content. To activate it, take the following steps:
Drawbacks with Google Authorship
In itself, I can’t think of there being too many drawbacks to activating Google Authorship, although, like all things, it is far from perfect. Here are some things to bear in mind once you have decided to implement Google Authorship for yourself:
On balance, I would argue that the Google Authorship is worth investing your time and energy with, particularly if you are looking to build up a personal brand or if your company or organization is built around a set of strong, identifiable individuals.
As I have already argued, Google is and will remain the biggest player in the internet search for the foreseeable future, and it is therefore foolish to dismiss any of Google’s products out of hand, especially if you are looking to curate a coherent, professional internet presence.
Google Authorship is therefore a vital tool for authors and content writers looking to establish their authority in the internet age.
About Nick Lewis
Nick is a communications professional with over 15 years’ experience of working in both the private and public sector. As Nick Lewis Communications, he’s now using his wealth of knowledge to help small businesses and organizations adapt to the modern online age. A graduate from the University of Wales Swansea, he worked in various marketing roles prior to launching Nick Lewis Communications in 2012. Nick can be found on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.
How catastrophic would it be if a swearword found its way into your document? Certain words have a way of leaping out of the page and causing offence, even if they are there by accident – a mistyping of ‘ship’, for example, or of ‘mucking about’.
Here is a simple way to remove swearwords from the dictionaries used by Word, Outlook and other Office applications, so that the spell checker will alert you to any nasties that find their way in.
Source: Can I remove a word from Office’s speller dictionary? (MSDN Blogs)
Sam Hartburn is a self-confessed maths geek, who proofreads and edits material about mathematics and other related subjects, from early years through to adult education and academic research. The formats she has worked on include books, journals, online lessons and video tutorials. Find out more at Quick Black Fox Proofreading or connect on LinkedIn.
Using macros can speed up the work of a proofreader or an editor, and can help to improve the consistency of the work you do. They offer speed and attention to detail (they don’t get bored and miss things), and you provide the intelligence: you understand the meaning and significance of the text, while to the computer it’s all just data.
Over the past few years, I’ve written macros to speed up a few aspects of the spelling process, but recently I’ve looked more radically at the whole spelling process. We all use spellcheckers, but let’s analyse what actually happens.
Word’s piecemeal spellcheck macro
When you press F7, Word runs its own spellcheck macro* but it’s a piecemeal checker – it only works on one word at a time – so you decide whether each word really is an error and, if so, what to do with it. Let’s spell out all the functions, noting who is doing what (forgive me if you think I’m labouring this, but looking at the detail will help us to find a better way):
So, rather than tackling only one word at a time, can we automate it? Clearly we can’t just accept Word’s suggested alternative for every single word, so let me suggest how we can do some aspects automatically, while bringing in your own intelligence and decision-making.
First, the new SpellingToolkit macro can spellcheck all the words at one go (while you go for a cup of tea!), and it will generate an alphabetic list of all the different ‘errors’. If you want to, you can even give it a ‘user dictionary’, but with SpellingToolkit this is just another Word file, which makes it easy to add, subtract, copy and paste words.
You can now look at this ‘error’ list and decide that (a) some of the words are definitely errors (i.e. every occurrence needs changing), (b) some are definitely not spelling errors – ignore them, but (c) with some words it will depend on the context.
Once you’ve made those decisions, the macro can implement them through the whole document: words (a) are all changed by global F&R, words (b) are all highlighted while words (c) are just ignored.
And if you want to, you can copy and paste these ignored words into your ‘user dictionary’ to speed things up on later jobs – that’s entirely up to you.
The macro also looks at your list of ‘words to be corrected’, and uses Word’s spellchecker to provide a suggested alternative for each one. But again, you can check each one in case it has suggested the wrong word.
So, you end up with a list words to be altered (with their alternatives) plus other words to be highlighted. The macro can then do a global F&R to implement the changes and do the highlighting, or you could use a global F&R macro such as FRedit, or MegaReplacer from Jack Lyon.
The SpellingToolkit suite (with full instructions) is available on my website, as part of my free macro book, and also in the "Latest" file – which has just the macros that have recently been developed (or improved).
If you try out this new system, do feed back to me. Does it do what you want? Could it have extra features? Could it work more smoothly? I’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment below.
* If you don’t believe that Word itself uses macros, press Alt-F11 (Option-F11 on a Mac) and then run the spellcheck with F7, and you’ll see at the top of the Visual Basic window that it says ‘Running’.
About Paul Beverley
Paul has over 25 years’ experience as a technical author, publisher, proofreader and editor, and has the highest available editing qualification: LCGI (editing skills). Paul is passionate about macros and has used his programming ability to complement his writing and editing skills. Through his series of Macro Chat posts, he aims to share his knowledge and open up a dialogue about the benefits of macros to anyone working with words. Comments and questions are always welcome so please do join the discussion. No question is too basic!
Visit his business website at Archive Publications, and access his free book at Macros for Writers and Editors.
I'm delighted to welcome my colleague Paul Beverley as a regular columnist to The Proofreader's Parlour. Through his series of Macro Chat posts, he aims to share his knowledge and open up a dialogue about the benefits of macros to anyone working with words.
Do feel free to ask questions and comment on Paul's posts. Whether you're a seasoned user or a nervous newbie, please join the discussion. No question is too basic. Paul is keen to use his corner of the Parlour to engage with and help others so that they can use macros to improve their efficiency and productivity during the editing, proofreading or writing process.
He is currently working on what he calls a "spelling toolkit" that should enable you to produce spelling-error-free text more quickly and more easily. It's undergoing trials right now, and as soon as
it's ready for general use, you'll be the first to know.
Visit Paul's business website at Archive Publications, and access his free book at Macros for Writers and Editors.
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.
Think about the things you buy in daily life. Consider, for example, a television. You go to the store and see televisions by Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, and AxE. The first three are all names with which you are familiar; the last is an unknown. Would you buy the AxE brand television? Most people would not.
The reason is branding. People like to buy products that make them feel comfortable, that have a reputation for delivering quality, that are known. It is no different with editorial services.
Branding works a bit differently when talking about services, but branding, for which reputation is an easy substitute, is equally important in services as it is in hard goods. We hire lawyers and doctors and plumbers and carpenters based on their reputation (brand).
The question is how does an editor create a brand?
It isn’t difficult to create a brand if you focus on what you want your brand to mean. If, for example, you want it to mean “always on time”, then you need to always adhere to the agreed upon schedule, even if it means giving up your long-planned holiday because the work is going slower than expected.
The first thing to do is to outline what you want your brand to say about you. The second thing is to realize that positive branding does not occur overnight – it can take years to establish a positive brand. Note that I mention positive branding. Unfortunately, there is also negative branding, and a negative brand can be established in minutes.
Positive branding says these are all good things about you. For example, my brand says that I am able to undertake very large, complex editing projects and deliver high-quality professional editing according to the agreed-upon schedule and with a detailed style sheet. These are all positive attributes.
Negative branding says these are all bad things about you. For example, rarely delivers on time; quality is mediocre at best; not very professional; complains constantly; fails to follow instructions; doesn’t ask questions about assignments and so doesn’t complete assignments as expected.
It is because negative branding is quick to be gotten and hard to lose that companies spend a lot of time, effort, and money to create positive branding and to rectify negatives. Unfortunately, with service providers, unlike hard-good providers, rehabilitating a negative brand is very difficult, often impossible.
Again, you begin by identifying what you want your brand to say about you. Once you have listed what you want said, you need to outline how to create that positive branding. If extra effort is required to meet a deadline, make that effort and casually let the client know you made that effort. On occasion, I have written to a client with a question and causally mentioned that I planned to work on the project over the weekend to ensure that the schedule is met.
When you determine what your brand should be, the one thing I would shy away from is the idea that you are reasonably priced. I don’t want clients to associate me with a low price; I want clients to associate me with high-quality on-time work that also happens to be fairly priced. But I do not want price to dominate because once it does then that will be the key to your brand – pricing – when the key should be the types and quality of services provided.
Promoting your brand is not difficult. At every opportunity, you need to mention it by emphasizing those traits that you are making a part of your brand. But when creating your brand, be cautious. Don’t include something because you think it is expected but you will have difficulty delivering. I know one editor, for example, who believes that it is important that he emphasize on-time delivery, something he rarely accomplishes. He wonders why his branding isn’t more effective.
For ideas on how to promote your brand, just look around you. Consider, for example, how my blog, An American Editor, works to promote my brand or how this blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour, works to promote Louise Harnby’s brand. The promotion is ongoing but without being “in your face”. Think about how a response to someone’s question can be designed to promote your brand.
Most importantly, remember that poor reputation and poor branding can be costly in a business environment.
Copyright 2014 Richard H. Adin
Richard Adin, An American Editor, is the owner of Freelance Editorial Services, which for more than 30 years has provided high-quality editorial services to publishers worldwide. In addition, he is the author of The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper (available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other bookstores), which focuses on the business aspects of editing, as well as of EditTools, a collection of macros designed to make editing more profitable.
Dear valued proofreaders and editors, Louise has presented a wide range of business and editing advice here on the Proofreader's Parlour. Some of it I refer to regularly. What I hope to contribute is an understanding of what developmental editors (macro level/substantive changes) do in the school market. That means the textbooks, handouts, exams and such that kids get day to day at school.
First, I hope this insight will be interesting. Second, I hope it will alert everyone down the line in the publishing process to the intricate web of concerns that are woven into today's textbooks. Grab a cuppa and listen in.
Most of the resources I work on are for the K–12 school market in Canada and the USA. That covers all schooling from the first days until university or college. Chemistry and physics topics make up most of my work; math comes after that. Though I am a certified copy-editor, substantive editing is so time consuming that it makes up the majority of my practice. That explains my POV.
When material finally makes it to the copy-editor (and afterward, to the proofreader) it has been massaged to an astounding extent. Less of the author’s voice is left in these materials than in most others. The editors have taken into account:
That's off the top of my head. There's definitely more.
Any changes I suggest had better move the manuscript closer to those goals.
Reading level is high on my list of concerns when copy-editing. Because I edit tough subjects, it's important that the language not get in the way of the learning. Often we are aiming one full grade level below the audience. I have edited chemistry to the cadence of Green Eggs and Ham, and physics to the rhythm of Sherlock Holmes. Occasionally, another copy editor will “smooth” the language of a piece, raising the reading level eight years above the education level of the audience. There was a reason it was written that way.
The style sheet in school products reflects current trends in education, propriety, and avoiding any possible sense of moral, ethical, or legal infraction. I have removed the image of a sculptor because he was working on a backside, I've struggled with wording about erecting structures, and I've flipped the terms Aboriginal with Indigenous because none of the consultants seemed to agree.
I have also taken indigo out of the rainbow, and mourned the loss of Pluto’s planet designation along with the rest of my generation.
Learning new things is one of the best perks of editing. Working on school materials brings a broad wealth of information to your screen. And the author’s enthusiasm? You can sense that from the sheer number of exclamation marks.
My husband once admonished me: “If you’d worked that hard in school, you’d have done much better.” Well, they weren't paying me to go to school, and they didn't give me six solid months to work on one text. A lot has changed.
Adrienne Montgomerie is a freelance editor in Canada where she lives on the shore of one of the largest lakes in the world, Lake Ontario, and enjoys time outdoors in all weather. She is a phonics app developer and a certified copy editor who works mostly on instructional material. You can learn editing tricks from her in online courses and in a weekly column at Copyediting.com. You can also listen to her posts on the Right Angels and Polo Bears podcast.
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.
In this latest guest post, my colleague Anthony Haynes lays down ten handy tips that are worth any freelancer, editorial or otherwise, considering as part of their ongoing business planning.
Anthony's article arrived in my inbox the very same day I'd spent several hours attempting to eradicate a rather unpleasant virus from my computer. Point 7 therefore struck a particular chord with me, and served as a good reminder that regular assessment of one's IT security is a must. That aside, there's plenty more here for the editorial professional to think about.
Anthony Haynes is Creative Director of The Professional and Higher Partnership Ltd.
You’re busy. You just finished editing one typescript and there’s another one waiting for you. You need to keep on top of your invoicing and chase late payments. There’s a networking event to attend and leads from the last one to follow up. Plus a website to update and a tax return to file.
All of which means it’s easy to avoid continuity management.
That phrase, “continuity management”, isn’t one that sets the pulse racing. It enjoys none of the heroic status accorded to starting or growing an enterprise. “The great thing about Steve Jobs was his continuity management” is not something you’re used to hearing. Continuity management sounds pretty damned dull.
But if you’ve invested huge amounts of energy and other resources in developing your freelance business, it makes sense to do what you can to mitigate risks and plan for contingencies to ensure the business survives.
Here, in no particular order, are some steps you can take.
Finally, once you have a continuity plan, you can in effect use it as a sales tool: the more your clients can see you have planned to ensure continuity, the more professional and reliable you appear.
Copyright 2013 Anthony Haynes
It was almost a year ago when Louise contacted me and asked if I'd write a guest blog post for her about my editing career. It was also almost a year ago that a blog post about author India Drummond's quest to find her new editor—who turned out to be me—went viral over at The Passive Voice. Is it a coincidence that the blog post went viral and I have been utterly swamped with editing work ever since?
A year and a half ago, I realized that I'd have to come out of retirement and help other authors make their work shine. I was up for it; I may have called myself retired, but the truth was that I was editing books in my head all along. I just wasn't getting paid for it—and that frustrated me. I wanted to be editing. I would read something that I knew would be better with my touch, and I'd ache inside. I wanted to reach out to the author and offer to help. Except ... I was retired. I couldn't.
I'm so glad to be back. And I'll forever be grateful to India for writing that post, and to Passive Guy for linking to it. That was truly my lucky break; before that happened, I was struggling, hoping I could pull off this new career. I'd retired so long ago that the West of Mars name meant a lot of things, all publishing related, but it didn't translate so smoothly to being an editor. Most of my writer friends had no clue I had once paid my post-graduate-school bills this way.
I'm not one for revisiting old haunts, so I hooked up with my own editor and sought her advice. With everyone self-publishing these days, could I hang out my own shingle and make it? She assured me I am good enough that I could. And, okay, it took that viral post to make it actually happen, but by gosh, I'm doing it. In 2012, I came a mere $35 shy of my year-end income goal. This year, until my unexpected slowdown in late March, I was on target to exceed a higher income goal.
But there's more success. My authors like working with me so much—and me with them!—that they've asked me to expand into other author services. I'm already offering my clients help writing back cover copy and/or query letters, along with a pitch they can use when people ask what their book is about. Formatting services, cover art, and promotions are all on my radar. I've even enrolled in a business course to teach me how to build in the infrastructure for this expansion.
As I write this, I've still got open dates in April and May of this year, and my calendar is open for booking beyond June, as well. June is, quite excitedly, pretty full, and I expect to be working the weekends around my yearly visit to Boy Scout camp, in order to ensure all my clients' works are shiny and ready to go meet their readers.
It's been a long, exciting, at times strange trip, but mostly it's been encouraging and full of amazing writers. The imaginations my clients possess blow me away on a daily basis, and I find I'm excited to get the kids off to school, squeeze a workout in, and sit down and get to work, helping the best writers out there be that much better.
About Susan: Susan Helene Gottfried, known to many as Susan at West of Mars, is the author of the Trevolution books featuring bad boy bass player Trevor Wolff. She's also a darn good editor who'd love to work with you. West of Mars is a real place, but please don't try to find it on a map. One stalker per lifetime is more than enough! Visit the online fun at http://westofmars.com. Maybe you'll even get to meet a foster kitty or two.
The Fiction Freelancing series presents the individual experiences of editorial freelancers working on fiction within both the publishing sector and the independent-author market. Overall, the Parlour’s Work Choices feature has proved tremendously popular with editors and proofreaders looking for insights into working in various genres and specialist academic/professional fields. This time round we’re looking at editing genre fiction, and sharing his wisdom is my colleague Marcus Trower.
Marcus has an impressive publishing background – journalist, production editor, chief sub-editor, feature writer, film critic, contributor to men’s magazines, travel journalist, and editor. Oh, and he’s written and published a book, too. With this many strings to his bow he knows a fair bit about the written word, so I’m delighted he’s agreed to talk to us about the business of editing …
Louise Harnby: Welcome to the Proofreader’s Parlour, Marcus, and thanks for taking the time to explore the field of genre fiction with us. So to start off, and for the benefit of those who are new to the field and unsure of the terminology, can you tell us what the term “genre fiction” means.
Marcus Trower: Thanks for having me, Louise. The border between literary fiction and genre fiction can be a little blurred at times, but basically we’re talking about crime fiction, thrillers, sci-fi, romance, fantasy – that type of book – and the many sub-genres within those genres. Another term for genre fiction is “commercial fiction”. We’re talking plot-driven novels with an emphasis on entertaining the reader. That’s not to say that they can’t deal with big issues. They tend to be books that aren't say, experimental in form, however. These are novels in which, if there’s an unreliable narrator, it’s likely to be in the sense that he or she is someone who can’t be trusted to meet another character at a place and time they've agreed. And should you encounter navel-gazing in a work of genre fiction, it will be during a scene in which a character is admiring the midsection of his or her love interest rather than a passage in which the author, thinly disguised as the narrator, likens his life to a Buñuel film.
LH: I’d like to hear more about your specialty areas. Can you tell us a bit about the editing work you’ve completed? Which particular subgenres most excite you from the point of view of an editor, a reader, and a writer?
MT: I specialize in working with authors of genre fiction, and within that field, I would say 75 per cent of the total number of books I work on are either mysteries or thrillers, so crime is very much my specialism. The other 25 per cent tends to consist of sci-fi, romance, the odd translation, and the odd zombie story set in medieval England – I’m thinking of The Scourge, by Roberto Calas, which I edited recently. I have a specialism within a specialism, too: mysteries and thrillers with a Spanish language component tend to come my way, since I lived in Spain for a couple of years, and I know my way around the Spanish language.
Mysteries have always appealed to me as a reader. I think that’s because I’m fascinated by the idea of hidden patterns and motivations lying beneath the familiar surface of life. Offering my services as a mysteries and thrillers specialist is a natural and sensible thing for me to do, not only because I like reading crime fiction, but also because I’ve been writing my own crime story, a tale set in the underworld of Rio De Janeiro, and I’ve studied the craft of writing crime fiction to an advanced level in order to enhance my own writing. When I started writing the novel a few years back, I made the mistake of thinking that because I’d had a work of narrative non-fiction published, I knew how to string scenes together and tell a story. Fortunately, I soon realized how wrong I was, and I subsequently took crime fiction writing classes to learn about things like POV, building tension, characterization, scene setting, dialogue mechanics, and so on. The courses I took gave me a knowledge base that is incredibly useful to me when it comes to editing the work of other authors writing crime fiction in particular and genre fiction in general.
LH: I’ve proofread a fair bit of genre fiction, primarily for publishers, and at that stage my clients are really just looking for that final polish – ironing out any final inconsistencies, layout problems and typos. Editing is a whole different ball game – you’re intervening at a much earlier stage and in a more invasive manner. I do want to explore the challenges of doing this kind of work, and how you manage the working relationship with an author who’s put their heart and soul into their novel, but I think that first it would be helpful to understand a bit about the process. So, when you receive a manuscript, how do you go about it? How do you actually structure this kind of work?
MT: I like to read the first couple of chapters without editing or commenting in order to bond with the material. I often make a few notes, jotting down characters’ names and so forth, which will help me later on. During a first read, I’m looking at everything – grammar, syntax, punctuation and style, as well as POV, characterization, scene setting, plot coherence, continuity, verb tense use, dialogue mechanics, possible legal issues, and so on. One moment I might be adjusting hyphenation, the next I might be flagging the fact that an author has forgotten to give a physical description of a key character or querying whether he or she has sought permission to use song lyrics. What I love about copy-editing fiction is how many levels you have to think on.
As I said, during that first read, I’m looking to fix or flag absolutely anything and everything that is, or could be, an issue. But I like to keep the forward momentum going during the first read, so if there’s an issue that comes up that requires more than a little thought, I’ll usually flag the passage it comes in and return to it later. Often that’s a wise move, because your perspective on a particular issue can change quite radically the deeper you get into a novel.
The first read should remove simple distractions – misspellings, say, or awkward or incorrect style choices – allowing me to see even deeper still into what’s going on in the manuscript during a second read. I spend a lot of time working on comments addressed to the author, making sure that I get the tone right, explain an issue clearly and lay out options effectively. I tend to comment a lot; on average, I write between 150 and 250 comments in the margins of each manuscript – using Microsoft Word’s commenting tool, of course, rather than writing by hand on a hard copy. I know from what publishers and authors tell me that I’m considered to be at the very-thorough end of the editing spectrum, but in my mind I’m actually trying to intervene and comment as little as possible. My aim is to support the author, not impose myself on his or her work in any way, shape or form.
When I’m satisfied that I’ve finished going through a novel, I spend a good amount of time reviewing the edits I’ve made, checking that they are correct and consistent, and making any necessary adjustments. I check through all my comments, too, and finish off my editorial letter to the author, which I begin composing during the second pass, and which can run to 2,500 words in length. I like to sit on a manuscript for a couple of days before returning it and the letter, just in case something else occurs to me.
LH: You were a journalist in another life, and you’re a published author. This means you edit and you’ve been edited. Is the fact that you’ve been on the other side of the fence, so to speak, a benefit to your editing practice? I feel like I already know the answer to that question, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on it anyway. Is the fact that you’re a writer yourself something you take the time to explain to your clients at the outset? And on the flip side, do you sometimes feel that being an author yourself gets in the way? In other words, can you wear both hats at once or do you feel the need to separate the two at times?
MT: Right, I was a journalist for many years. I started off in journalism working for music magazines in the early 1990s – publications such as Record Mirror, Kerrang! briefly, Melody Maker and Vox. I also worked for Time Out and Empire, as well as The Big Issue and Loaded at the beginning of their lives. I subsequently worked for some of the nationals, most notably The Times and a section of The Mail on Sunday that belied the Guardian reader’s stereotypical image of what a publication from the Daily Mail camp is like – in fact, a lot of the journalists I worked alongside there went on to work for The Guardian and The Observer. I freelanced in contract publishing, too, for many years.
During all that time, I was always both a writer and an editor. I know what it’s like to be edited well, and I know what it’s like to have what feels like a team of boisterous hippos trample all over my copy. You have to be pretty thick skinned to survive in journalism, though, and there’s not a lot of hand holding. I found that I had to make an adjustment and be a little more delicate and diplomatic when I first started editing fiction than would perhaps be considered necessary in journalism.
I don’t go out of my way to mention that I’m a writer to authors, no, but then I don’t hide the fact either, and it’s there in black and white on my website. If I did make a point of mentioning that I’m a writer, that could be a turn-off for authors. They might think I’m going to try to write their book for them, which is one of the worst sins you can commit as an editor. I do stress that I can give feedback on the sort of storytelling elements I’ve already mentioned, though, which does stem from my being a fellow author who’s studied the craft of fiction writing.
I never feel like being an author gets in the way – much the opposite. It helps me develop a strong connection with authors and their work. I really, genuinely want to help other writers. To use a terrible cliché, I want to make their book the best it can be. I identify strongly with novelists. I’ve faced the same creative challenges as they have; I’ve faced the same practical ones of trying to find, or buy, the time to write while working a day job. I’ve gone through the difficult process of trying to get an agent, then the even tougher one of trying to get a publisher. I’ve had my fair share of rejection letters and emails. From personal experience, I know how hard trying to make it as an author can be. If I can help other writers by offering them good editing, then that makes me feel good.
LH: Getting the author–editor relationship right has got to be crucial, has it not?
MT: Yes, it really is. The first thing I do is try to establish a rapport with the author and his or her work. I send out a questionnaire that seeks to find out everything from which other writers out there the author identifies with in terms of style, to how he or she feels about serial commas. The key is to get as good an understanding as possible of what an author is trying to do in his or her work, and to get across right at the beginning that I’m here to help him or her do that.
I think it’s very important to set the right tone right at the outset of a book edit in margin comments. On the initial pages, you’re trying to make it clear to the author that he or she is in good hands, you’re not here to mess with his or her style and vision but to enhance the novel, and you’re also trying to establish clearly the principles and reasoning behind certain alterations you’re making so that you can save yourself the trouble of repeating yourself again and again throughout the manuscript. That’s also why it’s a good idea to write a thorough editorial letter.
Much of the time I lay out options, since a lot of fiction editing involves making subjective decisions rather than the more objective types of calls you make as a proofreader, say. For example, a comment might begin “You may want to consider . . .” Diplomacy and tact are key. If I spot a dangling participle and a rewrite is in order, I don’t write – and I’m going to exaggerate here – “Honestly, what kind of idiot are you? Do you realize you’ve written a dangler?” but instead something like “There’s a dangler here at the beginning of this sentence . . .”, then quickly move on to laying out a couple of rewrite options, which should prove helpful to the author. You’re there to give constructive help and support.
LH: Is editing genre fiction different from editing other types of writing?
MT: Obviously there is a lot of crossover with editing other types of writing – there is the same confusion between “it’s” and “its”, or between defining and non-defining relative clauses, say, that you’ll see in all other types of writing. A big difference, though, is that you need to also analyse the storytelling elements I mentioned earlier – POV, scene setting, characterization, etc. Some people would call this big-picture editing, or developmental editing, and not see it as part of the copy editor’s job, but I’ve always offered that kind of feedback and analysis as part of my service, partly because that has been what publishers have asked me to do, and partly because I really do think it is part of the job. If a writer has slipped into omniscient mode while telling a story, but up to that point he or she has been keeping POV discipline and telling the story from the viewpoint of a single character, for example, to my mind that’s just as much a slip as a mistake in grammar or syntax, and it needs to be flagged.
There are also style and even punctuation conventions in genre fiction that make it different from other forms of writing. To take an example, in academic writing an ellipsis (…) is used to show the omission of words from a quoted passage, but in genre fiction an ellipsis can be used to indicate that a speaker has paused or trailed off in dialogue, or in narration as a tension-building device – which is something that the crime writer Mark Billingham does, for example. A sentence will begin like this one and be about to reveal some crucial information, and it will . . . have an ellipsis like that one just before the revelation. It’s a little bit like the pause in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? when a contestant has given his or her final answer, and Chris Tarrant draws out the tension by pausing before revealing whether the answer is correct while that bass-drum music rumbles away in the background. Perhaps, in fact, I should refer to that kind of ellipsis as a Tarrant from now on. Some people might consider it a melodramatic device, but there it is.
LH: Newbies reading this will be curious to know how you go about getting work, Marcus. Running your own editorial business in a crowded market can be a tough gig – so how do find your clients or how do they find you?
MT: I work quite a lot for CreateSpace’s Thomas & Mercer, 47North, Montlake Romance and AmazonCrossing imprints, which are based in the States. They represent a different side of Amazon’s publishing business from the self-publishing side that everyone’s familiar with. I got work with CreateSpace by taking and passing their editing test. Working for them set me on a trajectory of editing fiction written by US authors, and most of my clients are American. I’m a member of an American organization called the Editorial Freelancers Association, and clients find me through a listing I have on its website. I recently started blogging, and a few authors have found me through my website and blog, too.
I don’t really go out to actively find clients, to be honest. Maybe I’m a bit naïve, but my attitude is that if I do good work, people will hear about me and find me, so I focus most of my energies on doing a good job, and I let marketing take care of itself, really.
One thing I would say, though, is that in my opinion it’s important to have a specialism, as I have. I think it’s better to come across to authors as a specialist in a particular field than it is to sell yourself as a generalist. I don’t worry about losing opportunities by being a specialist, either. The fact is I do get to work on novels other than crime novels anyway.
LH: One of the best things about editorial freelance work is that you can live where you want. Given you live on the Maltese island of Gozo and do a lot of work for the US market, is the fact that you don’t live in the States ever a disadvantage, or doesn’t it matter?
MT: Yes, I can live where I want in theory. Great, isn’t it? Thank you, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. If I became complacent and started to believe the Brits and Americans use the same language, I would create a problem for myself. Obviously we do share a language, but there are a lot of differences, as we all know. I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m effectively working in another language, though it’s one I’ve been exposed to from a young age through American TV, films and music, and so on. I’ve had to make some adjustments. I write my editorial letters and comments using American punctuation and spelling rules, and I have to use American grammar and punctuation terms when I communicate with authors.
There are many good resources, both online and on my bookshelf, in which I can usually find clarification of specific points that relate to US English and crop up during editing. If I do get stuck – and it doesn’t really happen very often, truth be told – there are always people I know in the States I can run a colloquial expression by to check a preposition used is correct, say. I’ve never really thought about this before, but since the US is such a vast place, maybe a New York-based copy editor has to do the same thing if he or she is working on a manuscript that uses a dialect spoken in the Midwest, for example.
Obviously, as a copy editor you amass a big pile of language knowledge, but I think that one of the keys to editing, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, is knowing what you don’t know – and to look up whatever that is. Which I don’t think Rumsfeld went on to say.
LH: We’ve primarily talked about your editing; now I’d like to focus on your writing. You post some fabulous articles on your website that are of interest to writers and editors alike. Tell us a bit more about the motivation behind that. And what kinds of things will you be posting about in the future?
MT: That’s very kind of you to say. The blog series I write, Be Your Own Copy Editor, aims to help authors, but of course I’m very flattered that fellow editors are reading it, too. Its strapline is “Self-editing advice from the front line of fiction editing”, and that’s the key to the blog for me. It developed because in my work I kept seeing – and still do, of course – the same issues crop up again and again in authors’ manuscripts. I realized that some of these subjects weren't really dealt with properly by grammar books, style manuals and books on writing fiction. There are a lot of resources out there that talk about things such as subject–verb agreement, say, or the difference in meaning between “compliment” and “complement”, but there isn't much guidance about things like when and how to style inner monologue using italics, which I've covered in a blog, or identifying a three-verb compound predicate and punctuating it correctly, another subject I've covered, since compound predicates with three or more verbs are common in genre fiction.
I intend to keep posting about issues that are specific to genre fiction but don’t get much coverage, if any, and subjects that are covered elsewhere but which I think need to be both looked at in more depth than they often are and viewed specifically from the perspective of genre fiction.
By the way, the series may be called Be Your Own Copy Editor, but I’m not suggesting authors should bypass having their work copy-edited by a professional. My thinking is that the better the shape they get their manuscript in before submitting it to an editor, the more control they have over the final version, and the fewer things there are that can potentially go wrong. I think that’s good for both editors and authors.
LH: You also had a non-fiction book published by Ebury Press, The Last Wrestlers, which received some great reviews, and you said you’re writing a crime novel. The two sound a million miles apart! So how did the former come about, and where are you with the latter?
MT: They do sound far apart, however a couple of reviewers of my wrestling book were very perceptive in that they described it as being like a crime novel, which I think is true. Like a detective, I was running around the globe – I visited India, Mongolia, Nigeria, Brazil and Australia to do research – trying to discover who had murdered real wrestling and why. The Last Wrestlers grew out of an obsession with wrestling I had during my twenties – with doing it rather than watching it, I should add. I wanted to get to the bottom of why it meant so much to me, and also why it had declined in Britain. I thought, “Hang on. Wrestling is great. It’s a sport with real soul, dignity and history, yet it’s a laughing stock in Britain, where it’s associated with those guys prancing around in spandex on TV. What went wrong?” I spent over two years in the field, as it were, trying to answer that question and other questions.
My crime novel is set in the underworld of Rio De Janeiro, a city where I lived for a couple of years, but actually the story sprang partly out of an interview I did with a gunda, the Indian equivalent of a mafia don, while researching my wrestling book in Varanasi. Meeting him affected me a lot. He was young, high caste, physically slight and wore glasses, yet he had personally murdered about eight people, and he controlled elections, politicians and banks in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In a key opening scene in my crime novel, I transpose certain elements of the meeting to a favela in Rio, and the crime king in my novel is the boss of a fictional drug-dealing crew with similarities to Red Command, which runs a lot of shanty towns in Rio.
LH: What was the experience of being published like? Again, we’re back to the point about editing versus being edited – that sense, perhaps, of handing over control to someone else. Did you find the process a comfortable one? Do you hope to go down the publisher route with the crime novel or would you consider, or even prefer, self-publishing?
MT: I put my heart and soul into my wrestling book, and the research journey I went on nearly killed me – I mean that in the literal sense. I came back from Nigeria with a very serious tropical disease that the best doctors and professors of tropical medicine in the UK couldn’t diagnose and consequently couldn’t treat properly. Fortunately, I recovered spontaneously. But anyway, the point is that my book was incredibly important to me and told a very personal story, and in some ways I paid a high price to research and write it. So yes, it is difficult to hand over a project like that to someone else.
But I was very fortunate in that I had input on the developmental editing level from John Saddler, a brilliant agent who was a creative mentor to me, too, and Hannah MacDonald, then at Ebury Press, who was very perceptive and who I felt really understood where I was coming from as an author. She’s a novelist, too, which of course must help her engage with authors. There were one or two anxious moments, such as when I was told readers were unlikely to be able to stomach a book of over 80,000 words in length from a first-time author, and I’d written over 120,000, I think it was – but I felt like I was in really good hands. And in the event the word count wasn't cut dramatically.
I was fortunate enough to be published very well indeed. Since I lived in Brazil at the time, Random House kindly let me stay at the Random House flat in central London for a few days at the time of the book launch. I was given a PR handler, who took me around various radio studios, where I gave interviews. My book was reviewed in the Telegraph, The Sunday Times, twice by The Times, the Literary Review, The Independent, Arena, and a number of other publications. I did Excess Baggage on Radio 4. The book didn’t then go on to sell in the tens of thousands, though it had respectable sales. In hindsight, I think the title may have been a barrier to finding a readership for the book. Essentially, the book is about being a man in the modern world and it speaks about the topic by talking about my obsession with wrestling; it isn’t a book simply about wrestling. But if you look at the book’s cover and read its title, you probably won’t come away with that impression.
I have to say I get a little irritated when authors who identify heavily with the self-publishing and indie publishing boom talk about agents and editors at traditional publishing houses as though they are evil incarnate. I know I had a particularly good experience when my book was published, and not everyone is as fortunate as I was, but a lot of nonsense is talked about the traditional route in publishing. A lot of the people who work in publishing or work as agents are doing it because they genuinely love books, and they love breaking new authors.
With my own crime novel, I will try to get an agent for it and then a publisher. I came very close to getting represented by a big agency in London when I submitted it to them about 18 months ago – but a miss is as good as a mile, as they say. My first thought – actually, that’s a lie; it was probably my third thought, and the first two thoughts are unprintable – was that the manuscript just wasn’t good enough to get published, and I needed to work on it further. I hope to produce another draft this year, and if the manuscript gets rejected again, no, I won’t self-publish. I’ll take it as another sign that the novel isn’t good enough and try to improve it.
However, I am thinking of revising my wrestling book and producing print-on-demand and eBook versions for sale in the States, partly because I know the book will have some appeal there, and partly because I’d like to go through the process of putting out an eBook and print-on-demand book, because that will help me understand the publishing processes involved, which will in turn help me when I work with authors who are self-publishing using print-on-demand and eBook services.
LH: Marcus, thank you so much. The editorial knowledge you've shared is gold dust, both for new entrants to the field and for more experienced editors considering expanding their focus into genre fiction. I've also found the description of your journey as a writer fascinating, particularly given the changes in the publishing market taking place, but also in terms of how you use your experience to enhance the editorial service you provide. And as a keen reader of crime fiction, I'm looking forward to your book!
MT: You're very welcome, Louise. It's been great chatting to you.
Visit Marcus Trower's blog: Be Your Own Copy Editor. And if you fancy picking up a copy of his book (I'm off to buy a copy now!), it's available on Amazon: The Last Wrestlers.
Other posts in the series cover proofreading for trade publishers (Part I; Louise Harnby), editing fiction for independent authors (Part II; Ben Corrigan), and editing adult material (Part III; Louise Bolotin).
A note from Louise: In October 2012, I attended an indexing workshop for proofreaders, run by the UK's Society of Indexers. Ann Hudson, a fellow of the SI, was our trainer and she did a wonderful job of sharing her extensive experience and illuminating the world of the indexer. Ann's kindly agreed to write a guest article for the Parlour about her work. If you think it's a string you might like to add to your editorial freelancing bow, or you're just curious as to how an indexer works, then read on ...
‘Any simpleton may write a book, but it requires high skill to make an index.’
(Rossiter Johnson 1840–1931; from Hazel K. Bell (ed.), Indexers and Indexes in Fact and Fiction. London: The British Library, 2001)
Do you enjoy reading? Do you have a logical mind, and take pleasure in creating order out of chaos? Can you encapsulate a complicated concept in a succinct phrase? If so, you may be suited to indexing.
Many indexers also do proofreading and/or copy-editing, and some of the requirements overlap, such as good language skills, methodical working habits, meticulous attention to detail and a good eye for spotting errors. Computer skills are also vital: most indexers use dedicated indexing software which deals with the more mechanical aspects, leaving the indexer to do the brainwork. And as electronic formats develop indexers will be required to create linked indexes for ebooks and websites using html and xml tagging, or embedded indexing systems.
Indexers are often asked whether search engines have not made their work redundant, but this is far from true. A search engine will find mentions of the exact words that you type into it, but will not find alternative spellings or synonyms. Effective indexing is not just a question of extracting words from a text and putting them in alphabetical order. The skill is in devising entries which describe a whole section of text, bringing together references to the same concept which may be described in different words, and in making connections within the index, by means of cross-references and double entries, so that readers will be led to all the references they need. The ability to organise material clearly, so that readers can easily find their way around, is also essential. Indexers rarely receive praise, because when an index works well it is taken for granted – though people are quick to complain about an inadequate index!
In order to index effectively it is essential to understand what you are reading, and to know what sort of information will be useful and relevant to the likely readership. All indexers should be capable of indexing popular texts aimed at the general reader, but more specialised and academic books demand detailed knowledge. Many indexers offer specialisms, often in subjects studied to degree level or beyond; in particular, medical and legal books require detailed subject knowledge and skills. There are also indexers who specialise in cookery books, children’s books, technical manuals, and many other fields.
Indexing is usually a second (or third or fourth) career, and many indexers started out as librarians. Others come from careers in publishing, academia, IT, education and many other areas.
The first port of call for anyone interested in indexing in the UK is the Society of Indexers (SI). Other indexing societies include the American Society for Indexing, the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers, and the Indexing Society of Canada. Details of other indexing societies worldwide can be found through the SI website.
SI runs a distance learning course which provides a thorough training in the fundamental principles of indexing; it is web-based, with detailed study materials to download, practice exercises and resources online, four formal tests, three online tutorials, and a practical indexing assignment. Successful students become Accredited Members of the Society of Indexers, and are entitled to an entry in the SI’s online directory of ‘Indexers Available’, widely used by publishers. After two years’ experience Accredited Members can apply to become Advanced Professional Members of SI.
SI works hard to support professional indexers in many ways: providing a full programme of conferences, workshops and other CPD activities for indexers; raising the profile of professional indexers in the publishing world; and recommending minimum rates for indexing work. The recommendations for 2013 are £22.40 per hour, or £2.50 per page, or £6.75 per 1000 words. These rates are applicable to straightforward texts; experienced indexers working on specialised and complex projects can command higher rates.
Inevitably work is becoming harder to find while the UK is in recession, but well-established indexers are continuing to get regular work, and a good proportion of the 15–20 newly Accredited indexers each year are managing to establish themselves, though it may take several years to acquire enough regular clients to give up the ‘day job’. As with any freelance work, you need good business and communication skills, flexibility and a lot of persistence to get a career off the ground.
The work is mentally demanding and you must be willing to work long hours to meet urgent deadlines, especially when you are building up your business. It can be lonely work, and to some it would be pure drudgery. But there is plenty of support available from other indexers; SI members are a friendly bunch, with a lively email discussion list, annual conferences, and local groups in many parts of the UK which meet regularly for indexing-related talks and discussions and social activities. For me and many others indexing is a dream job, the culmination of all our previous working experiences, and the ideal way to earn a living – ‘being paid to read books’!
Fellow of the Society of Indexers
Copyright 2013 Ann Hudson
A note from Louise: The Parlour's series on Work Choices for editorial freelancers continues with this super post from my colleague Liz Jones. It's particularly pertinent given a recent discussion on the Society for Editors and Proofreaders forum about getting work based on particular subject specialisms. Several contributors made the point that it's not only the freelancer's education and career skills that come in useful, but also practical and hobby-based skills and knowledge. With that in mind, I was delighted when Liz suggested a guest article on editing cookery and craft titles. Read on ...
When you’re thinking about potential areas of publishing to target or publishers to focus your attentions on, it’s worth considering the cookery and craft* genres. They account for a big chunk of the market, with hundreds of titles being published anew every year, or updated or repackaged. The two genres share certain characteristics and considerations.
*Under the banner of "craft" I’m including a range of practical subjects, including knitting, crochet, dressmaking, spinning yarn, quilting, painting, drawing, origami, calligraphy, jewellery making … the list is long.
Who can do it?
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