An in-house editor discusses how he handles receipt of substandard work from a freelancer. Also worth noting is his advice on how a freelancer might interpret a lack of contact from an in-house editor and what to do about it ...
Philip Stirups sheds light on his experiences of editorial production. To be clear, Philip’s contributions are from the point of view of a publishing professional, broadly speaking. So while some of the things he has to say are informed by his experiences within the UK company for which he currently works, his residency here is not in the capacity of a representative of that particular publishing house. Over to Philip ...
At the outset, I want to say that the majority of proofreading jobs I receive back from freelancers are good. However, in a handful of instances, a job comes back and, unfortunately, it isn't up to scratch. Problems could include:
From an editorial perspective, this can cause an array of different problems.
First, an unsatisfactory proofread will usually lead to the in-house editor having to step in to compensate, which can in turn have an adverse impact on the book schedule.
A second problem, from an in-house editorial perspective, is even trickier: how to give feedback in an honest, yet tactful, way.
Breaking the bad news …
On the surface, the simple solution to this seems to be: "tell it as it is". However, this is easier in theory than in practice. The problem is that it’s quite difficult to convey tone via email. I want to get across what has been missed, but in such a way as not to seem condescending.
Furthermore, I don't want the freelancer to go away thinking they've done a bad job, when overall they haven’t. I could use the phone in order to avoid tone problems.
However, I believe that an email is more beneficial to the freelancer because it provides them with a written record of the issues; this means they have something to refer back to when they carry out future work for the in-house editor.
Receiving criticism, albeit constructive feedback, can be a shock for the freelancer, and very upsetting. I don’t want my suppliers to lose confidence when I have to tell them a job didn’t meet my requirements.
Instead, I want to communicate the message in a way that enables them to move forward, strong in the knowledge that by attending to the highlighted problems our working relationship can continue satisfactorily. Email gives them the time and space to digest the feedback I've offered in a non-confrontational way.
In cases where the work continues to be substantially below expectations, the clearest feedback a freelancer will receive may be represented by them not being offered further work.
This isn't to say that, overall, they are not good at what they do – rather, each job needs to be assessed on an individual basis, and when a freelancer is unable to use critical feedback to meet the in-house editor’s needs, the editor may decide that the supplier is no longer a good fit.
Things aren’t always what they seem …
Being offered no work, or only intermittent work, is not always an indication of poor fit or poor-quality work. It can often simply be, as I have often experienced, a case of there being no work available at the time.
Publishers' production workflows vary. A large house, with multiple imprints, that publishes mass-market paperback fiction may have a steady stream of projects to offer freelancers throughout the year, while a smaller independent academic press specializing in social science monographs or student handbooks may have busy and quiet spells in its production process.
It may also be that the freelancer had regularly turned down work, owing to the demands of their schedule. In this case, the in-house editor may have taken the decision to focus on other suppliers who are more often available.
It’s not a question of poor fit or poor quality; rather, the freelancer has simply slipped out of the in-house editor's mind.
If you’ve not been offered work from one of your in-house editors for a longer time than you feel comfortable with, get in touch. It never hurts to drop an editor a message to ask whether they have any projects.
The worst they can say is “no”, and even if they don't have anything to offer you now, but are happy to work with you again, you’re back on their radar.
Don’t be afraid to ask …
I cannot say there is a right or wrong way to give feedback. However, I firmly believe that openness on both sides is the key. I am willing to admit that my freelancer briefs could be improved. If you ever want feedback from your editor, just ask ...
And remember: it is never personal; it’s about meeting a set of business requirements. We in-house editors and freelancers are on the same team.
Louise Harnby is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in working with crime, mystery, suspense and thriller writers.
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and co-hosts The Editing Podcast.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Fiction Editor & Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, connect via Facebook and LinkedIn, and check out her books and courses.
PerfectIt is one of my favourite pieces of editorial software – a set of mechanical "eyes" that enable me to increase my productivity, consistency and overall quality when proofreading. That means it's good news for me and for my clients.
Version 3 of this super software was recently launched. For an overview of what's new, visit the Intelligent Editing website, where all the additional features are explained by the developer.
I'd planned to review version 3 here on the Parlour, but I'm a great believer on not reinventing the wheel when someone's already done the donkey work! So when I read fellow PerfectIt user Adrienne Montgomerie's robust review of PerfectIt 3, it made more sense to push my readers in her direction. You can read the article in full here: PerfectIt 3: Quality Software for the Experienced Editor (The Editors' Weekly, the official blog of the EAC).
Montgomerie provides a useful overview of the best new features, points of confusion, points of frustration, and an overall verdict. Her final words? "PerfectIt will still save your bacon, can save you time and tends to make you look eagle-eyed. If you take the time to set up style sheets for repeat clients, you can free up your eyes for content issues and lingering style issues. I will definitely be taking the time to make the most of this add-in for my largest clients, and I’ll continue running it on all documents."
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.
An in-house editor sheds light on his experiences of in-house editorial production, including how freelance editors and proofreaders are selected.
This editor's contributions are from the point of view of a publishing professional, broadly speaking. So while some of the things he has to say are informed by his experiences within the UK company for which he works, his residency there is not in the capacity of a representative of that particular publishing house.
Louise: Hi, Philip. It’s great to have you here! First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? It would be useful to have an overview of your daily responsibilities – many of our readers haven’t worked in-house so they may be unaware of what an in-house editor does. I understand that different presses work in different ways, but it would still be handy to know what you do.
UE: Hi Louise. It’s equally great to be contributing to your blog. So, a little bit about myself. I started working in publishing straight out of University back in 2010. I studied English and German at the University of Reading – and since my passion is language, publishing seemed like a natural career choice.
I have been working in the editorial department of an academic publishing house for the past five years. It’s absolutely incredible how quickly time flies. You are completely right – every publishing house operates in slightly different ways, so I can’t say the experience is representative of the role of in-house editors up and down the country.
And, even after five years, I am still rather new to the industry, compared with some of my colleagues, so I don’t speak as the one true voice of experience either.
So, about my role … As an editor, I am responsible for the project management of up to fifteen social science/humanities titles at any given time. My ultimate responsibility is ensuring the standards of the final product are in keeping with company and author expectations.
One thing that makes my role unique is that I, as an in-house editor, am responsible for typesetting my own projects. It is absolutely fantastic to feel so involved with a project from day one to the nerve-wracking day the book is ready to be sent to print. There is nothing better than having a satisfied author!
Louise: Which editorial services do you currently contract out to freelancers? Structural/development editing, copy-editing, proofreading, indexing? Anything else?
UE: We have three routes to print:
Louise: Today, I’d specifically like to focus on the commissioning of new freelancers. One question that comes up a lot in the freelance editorial community is: How does one get noticed by publishers?
So do you use particular directories when you’re looking to source new suppliers, and if so which ones? Or do you consider freelancers who’ve contacted you direct (by email, telephone, letter)? How about referrals from colleagues working for other presses?
UE: In collaboration with my line manager, I am responsible for curating the freelancer pool and enhancing freelancer processes, so I feel I can answer this question definitively.
The best way to get noticed by a publishing house is simply by finding out who the relevant in-house contact responsible for the freelancer pool is, and then sending them a quick message to enquire about the process. If you don’t ever ask, you’re never going to know.
Granted, a lot of publishers have established pools of people they use. However, I feel that you can never have too many freelancers in your pool – especially law proofreaders, who understand OSCOLA referencing.
A CV and covering letter is a good base from which to start, but I’ve met freelancers in person to whom I have offered work.
For example, I made new contacts off the back of attending the Society of Indexers (SI) conference in Cirencester in 2014, and many more at the joint Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP)/SI conference in York in 2015.
As an in-house editor, I would offer the following two key pieces of advice to any editorial freelancer:
Louise: When you read a CV and covering letter, or view someone’s listing in a membership directory, what are the key stand-out points that you're looking for?
Here, I’m thinking about the skills, experience, training, and other qualifications that make you think, “Yes, that person’s someone we want in our freelance bank.” When I announced the launch of this column, two of my colleagues asked specific questions that relate directly to these issues. Just as a reminder I’ve included them here:
UE: It is a combination of different factors that determines whether a particular person is suitable for our freelancer pool. Since we have a quite full freelancer list, freelancer specialities tend to be significant.
A good freelancer should be able to work on a variety of different material, but it is always good having somebody who really understands the text. Law, for example, tends to be one of those lists with a lot of subject-specific terms, and it is always good when these are understood in context.
Having professional accreditation is desirable. For example, with indexing we look for membership of the SI, and with proofreading we look to the SfEP.
Louise: How important is prior publishing experience, broadly speaking? If a freelancer has worked in-house, is this a strong selling point for you? Even if they haven’t worked in-house, is it important that they’ve worked for other publishers?
I’m interested in your views on this because I’m often asked by new entrants to the field whether a lack of publishing experience means it will be more difficult for them to secure work with publishers.
UE: In general, prior experience is important to in-house editors. If I see that a freelancer has worked for a particular client with similar lists to ours, then I will assume some level of familiarity with the subject matter.
Professional accreditation is great, but experience is what can bring these qualifications to life. I understand that this is often one of the hardest things for new freelancers. They want to gain experience, but in order to do so they have to be given work. And to be given work, they need experience. You see where the problem is! I do therefore respect the fact that everyone has to start somewhere.
You can often get a feeling from initial exchanges with freelancers whether your work together is going to be fruitful – call it editor’s intuition. Since all publishing houses work in different ways, it generally takes a couple of projects to get freelancers up to speed with working processes, but, by and large, the results are very pleasing.
Louise: Finally, do you have any further advice you’d like to share with freelancers who want to acquire work with publishers?
UE: Great question – I would say the following are points to bear in mind for anyone looking to acquire work:
Louise Harnby is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in working with crime, mystery, suspense and thriller writers.
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and co-hosts The Editing Podcast.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Fiction Editor & Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, connect via Facebook and LinkedIn, and check out her books and courses.
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.
The Fiction Freelancing series presents the individual experiences of editorial freelancers working on fiction within both the publishing sector and the independent-author market.
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.
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?
In the case of both cookery and craft books, while practical experience and a working knowledge of the subject are both helpful, common sense and a willingness to engage with the material are arguably more important.
It is your editorial skill set that you’re being hired for, and any subject-specific knowledge is a bonus. If it’s a subject area that’s a little outside your comfort zone, by all means confess this to the in-house editor, but don’t necessarily let it stop you taking on the job.
Having said that, if you are passionate about any particular practical discipline, do draw attention to this when you approach a publisher in these genres. It’ll make you instantly more memorable – and employable.
Does practical experience help?
You don’t need to be a fantastic cook or a highly accomplished needleworker to successfully edit or proofread a book on the subject. However, some practical experience helps.
Take cooking: it’s desirable if you can picture what a pinch of salt looks like, or 4 tablespoons of flour, or 50 grams of butter. A basic understanding of the science behind baking a cake, or a working knowledge of how to make pastry will stand you in good stead. You might not be the next Heston Blumenthal, but you need to care about why a recipe might work … and why it might not.
It also helps if you’re into food – possibly even passionately so, even if you don’t do much cooking yourself. (In our house, my husband is the main cook, but we talk about food and recipes all the time.) Know your ingredients. Keep up with food trends. And read lots of cookery books!
If you love food, this won’t be a chore. By reading around the subject you’ll get a feel for how recipes are put together, what new ingredients are on the market, how different publishers present similar kinds of information, and what’s desirable in a finished recipe.
For craft, it’s important to understand how publishers like their instructional text presented, and to be able to get to grips with the specific jargon relating to the subject. Again, familiarity gained from reading the kinds of titles you’d like to work on is essential. Once you get to know the conventions of the genre, you are as equipped as anyone else to spot problems and inconsistencies in the text. This applies especially to proofreading, and once you’re more comfortable with the subject area it’s straightforward to move into copy-editing if you want.
It can be reassuring to know that for cooking, crochet and knitting titles, publishers will often employ a freelance tester or pattern checker who will make up the recipes or projects, as well as an editor and proofreader.
What characteristics do these books share?
Both genres depend on the reader being able to understand a set of instructions in order to be able to exactly reproduce something at home. Therefore these instructions need to be unambiguous and clear. They should also be free from waffle – the reader does not want to get lost in flowery descriptions while they’ve got their hands covered in icing sugar or superglue.
It’s likely you’ll have to wrestle with units of measurement. Sometimes these are given in both metric and imperial, and many jobs therefore require a certain amount of conversion or checking of measurements, or adding-in of missing information. This may seem dull – but it becomes considerably less boring when you consider how much your reader is depending on these measurements being accurate.
You need to develop a sixth sense for those that seem "a bit off". Surely they can’t mean 15 kg salt? Why on earth would a patchwork skirt for a human take 35 metres of corduroy? How could a delicate beaded necklace possibly be threaded on wire 25 mm thick?
Practical texts are often integrated with images, often in the form of numbered step-by-step sequences. Sometimes the publisher will send you the pictures to look at, and sometimes they won’t. If you have the pictures you need to look closely at each one against the text it accompanies. In this way, especially for craft subjects, a willingness to engage with visual material is important.
With instructional text, editing can be about moulding the material to fit a publisher’s paradigm. Many craft titles are templated before they are written, with the author writing to fit a set of presentation layouts.
Finally, we’ve all been taught to reject the received wisdom that the passive voice is inherently evil. However, this is less the case when editing cookery and craft texts. The active voice is often preferred – some publishers will even specify this. And when editing instructions, the imperative is often used to get the point across quickly.
How should I approach a craft or cookery edit?
The heart of any cookery or craft book is the recipes or projects. These often break down into three parts:
Editing the introduction is just like editing any other kind of text – try to retain the author’s voice as much as possible, as this is what gives the book its particular flavour.
Then there’s the list of ingredients, or tools and materials in the case of craft. This is where you need to start getting really picky about consistency. The publisher’s house style will often tell you what units of measurement they prefer – metric, imperial, by volume (spoons and cups), or some combination of these. It may also detail exactly how you should phrase the specification of particular items.
For instance, is it "a handful of chopped fresh parsley"? Or "a handful of fresh parsley, chopped"? It doesn't only look messy to vary this kind of information – it also makes a difference to accuracy.
The ingredients (or materials) should usually be listed in the order in which they are used in the method or instructions. This area often requires your attention, and it should go without saying that every ingredient listed needs to be mentioned in the method, and that every ingredient mentioned in the method needs to be listed.
The method or instructions for a dish or project are essential to get right. You need to weed out any ambiguities and inaccuracies; don’t leave the reader wondering what to do with that bowl of freshly melted chocolate, or one bead short of a pair of earrings.
Eliminate as much redundancy as you can so that the text is clear and to the point. If a process is repeated throughout the book, try to keep the wording that describes it the same or very similar each time, so the reader understands that it’s the same process.
Make sure you understand everything, and can picture what is meant to be happening, even if the subject matter is slightly unfamiliar to you. Don’t assume that an expert reader will be able to understand a description of a process that makes no sense to you. And do watch out for silly mistakes, such as an oven that gets preheated the night before the rest of the recipe happens.
What work opportunities are there?
In terms of the work you might be asked to do on craft or cookery titles, of course there is copy-editing and proofreading, as well as project managing. There is also plenty of work to be found if you can turn your hand to Americanizing or anglicizing text.
Cookery and craft titles, as mentioned, frequently feature units of measurement, and converting these into a format acceptable for the US or UK market is a bit of a headache. This is where you come in.
In this case, being prepared to work onscreen, in InDesign, can be a major benefit; publishers often make the UK or US edition of a book in a great hurry after the primary edition has gone into production. As well as the measurements, you’ll also need to adjust the grammar and vocabulary, of course. Both craft and cookery subjects feature a lot of jargon that is different in UK and US English (frying pan/skillet, coriander/cilantro, selvedge/selvage, double crochet/single crochet, cast off/bind off … etc.).
There are many specialist publishers out there, and it’s worth approaching packagers, too, who often produce complex, highly illustrated titles for major publishers and can be a great source of freelance work.
So … should I go for it?
Craft in particular might not seem the most highbrow area of book publishing (let’s face it, no one is ever going to win the Man Booker Prize for a book about painting watercolour flowers), but it can be interesting, and reasonably well paid once you get used to the subject matter. You’re also fairly likely to work on books that you’ll later see in your local Waterstones, which can be a buzz in itself. Cookery and craft books are often gorgeously designed and produced, which is nice if you’re a bit of a book fetishist (aren’t we all?). You might even have the thrill of working on a high-profile title that receives lots of media attention – though in this case, don’t necessarily expect to be able to tell anyone about it.
At the end of the day, you’re not helping to disseminate information that will one day bring about world peace, or a cure for some terrible disease. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing that the books you work on are helping to make a lot of people happy – or, if you mess up, extremely frustrated.
Copyright Liz Jones 2013
About Liz: Liz Jones has worked as a full-time freelance book editor and project manager for the past five years, following ten years as an in-house editor for four different publishers – the last of which was a packager specializing in practical art and craft titles. Her work has two distinct strands: highly illustrated non-fiction books, and educational resources. When not editing she is usually playing with her children, playing the flugelhorn or writing. Visit Liz Jones Editorial Solutions for more information.
A note from Louise: Receiving payment for editorial freelancing can leave us editors and proofreaders feeling a little down in the mouth when we see chunks of our hard-earned cash being swallowed up by transaction and currency-conversion fees.
Only recently I had to add £15 to an invoice for a Canadian publisher in order to cover my PayPal fees – not something I felt good about, considering this client is a vibrant start-up with a fair-trade policy for its authors. Lloyds TSB also charged me over £13.60 for the privilege of receiving a payment from a Spanish client. For an invoice of approximately £200 this felt like a kick in the teeth.
I'm therefore delighted to welcome my editorial colleague Averill Buchanan to the Parlour with her excellent guest article about CurrencyFair. From their website: "Our unique, new peer-to-peer marketplace ensures big savings on exchange rates and fees ... an efficient and safe alternative to ridiculous bank and broker charges." Interested? Read on ...
I've just completed my first set of transactions using CurrencyFair, a peer-to-peer marketplace that allows you to exchange and send funds in a wide variety of currencies, and thought that others might be interested (especially after hearing some horror stories about PayPal freezing people’s accounts).
I needed to pay a membership fee to an organization in Dublin who don't offer PayPal as a payment option (because it costs them too much). So I set up a business account with CurrencyFair (CF), transferred money from my sterling bank account, exchanged it through CF (they make the process very easy), after which it went into my CF euro account. I was then able to pay the organization their membership using IBAN from my CF euro account. The entire cost to me was €3.
I finished an editing job for a client in Ireland and invoiced him in euros. I gave him the details of the CF account in Dublin along with my CF reference number. He paid online using his regular bank interface on Thursday (presumably at no cost to him) and I received the money in my CF euro account the following Tuesday. I then exchanged it to sterling (for a fee of £3) and transferred it to my own bank account on the same day.
Had I invoiced and been paid by my client through PayPal it would have cost me at least £20 more, and PayPal doesn't allow you to shop around for the best exchange rate. They process payments in and out of the US, just like any other currency. They charge a flat fee for each transaction – 3 units of whatever currency you are exchanging to/from.
As a freelancer, you are required to set up a business account with CurrencyFair (something to do with money laundering), but a business account doesn't cost you anything – it’s just the same as a personal account in every other respect. They will want to see scans of passport and other documents proving your address – just as if you were setting up a regular bank account – and it takes a day or so to set up a new account.
But what I’m most impressed with about CurrencyFair is the personal attention. Tim Porter, an Associate Director, took the trouble to phone me at a time that suited me, to answer all my questions, and he’s been on the end of emails all through the process.
Should anyone else like to try CurrencyFair as a replacement for PayPal (and I highly recommend it), Tim is quite happy to speak to you about it. His email is email@example.com. If you want to read more about the benefits, the website gives some live examples of what you can save by using CurrencyFair instead of a regular bank or broker.
No doubt there are other providers offering similar services, so if you know of any that you'd like to recommend or share your experiences about, please leave a comment.
Copyright 2013 Averill Buchanan
Bio: Averill Buchanan is a freelance editor, proofreader and book indexer.
A note from Louise: Do you issue a contract before you start an editorial project? If not, take a gander at the advice from my editorial colleague Cassie Armstrong.
Working without a net
Most of you wouldn't think of beginning an editing project, or making a major purchase, without a contract in place. I was like that, too.
I never began a new project without either a signed contract on file or an email where both parties made it clear what they would and would not do.
But I didn't do that with a recent project. That mistake cost me time and money.
Take a minute and learn from my mistake.
I answered a job post for a proofreader a few weeks ago. The project was interesting, so I sent an email to the person who posted it. We talked about what the work involved, why a proofreader was needed, and about my hourly fees.
I was thrilled to be accepted because the project piqued my interest. I could relate. But in my haste to begin, I didn't take the time to discuss a contract with my client. I should have stopped right there and corrected this mistake.
Ask if there’s a budget
In the early talking stages, when you and your potential client are discussing the project, take the time to ask if there is a budget for the work.
I usually always ask. If I like the project and want to be involved, I will often times accept it even if the potential client’s budget is lower than my hourly fee.
That decision is up to you, but it’s one that you need to consider in the beginning talking stages for any project. Money isn’t the only reason to be involved.
In the recent project I suggested an hourly fee but didn't ask about a budget. For the next piece of work, I plan to avoid this mistake and ask the question. It would be in your best interest to ask the question, too.
Remember to ask it during the project’s conversational phase, before you accept job.
Don’t do anything without a contract
I didn’t suggest or push for a contract because my client wanted the project completed in a week. I thought requesting a contract would slow down the process.
This was my third mistake. Always take the time to draw up a contract. If you don’t want to be that formal, you can write the potential client a letter that explains what you will do and how you will do it.
The letter and contract don’t have to be complicated and KOK Edit has some good examples that you can review and modify to suit your needs in her Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base (Contract between editor and book publisher; Contract between editor and client).
An email will also serve as a contract
If you don’t want to draw up a formal contract and take the time needed for both parties to sign it and return it, an email where you specify what you will do, how long the project will take, and the overall or hourly fee will also suffice as long as you have a statement of agreement from your client in a return email.
This acceptance email will serve as the contract for the job.
Ask for a deposit
Just as a contract is important in any project, so is a deposit. Depending on the length of the project, you may want up to 50 per cent in advance and payment on billable hours every two weeks.
The amount of deposit as well as the project’s billing cycle is as individual as the project and editor. These items should also be spelled out in the contract.
For some small projects, I have edited without a deposit. For me, it’s a gut reaction. Just as each contract is different, so is requiring a deposit. For short projects with rapid turnarounds, deposits may not work.
Do what works for you and is best for your circumstances at the time. In all cases, make sure you have complete contact information and consider using PayPal.
Add a kill fee
No matter what kind of contract you write, either traditional, a letter or email, make sure the contract contains a kill fee. The kill fee will save you a lot of grief and will provide an out for both you and your client if things don’t progress the way you'd planned.
Just as a deposit helps protect you from doing a lot of work and then not getting paid for it, a kill fee, cancellation fee, or rejection fee serves a similar purpose.
The kill fee ensures that you’re paid for all the work you’ve done up to the time the client notifies you that they are not going to work with you any longer, or when you decide to walk away from the project for one reason or another.
Both you and the client may decide to cancel the project for any number of reasons, including timing, money, or change of focus.
You both may decide to cancel the job because you aren't happy with the initial work, may think that you aren't working well together, or may not want to continue for some other reason.
Whatever the grounds, the kill fee helps cover your billable time and any tangible expenses (delivery fees, for example) incurred so far in the project.
Make sure you understand what the project entails
Through conversations and drafts, make sure that the project requirements are crystal clear for all parties involved.
Offer to fix any errors
If you make a mistake in a project because of a lack of communication or because the client is not happy with one aspect of your work, offer to fix the problem. Taking a few hours to make a client happy will be your best reward in the long run.
It will make you feel good and there’s also the possibility of receiving future work from a satisfied customer.
Keep the lines of communication open
Communication in a project is key. You can communicate via email or via the telephone.
Establish the best way to keep in touch before the project begins and discuss how many times a week you will be in contact. If the client prefers telephone conversations, exchange numbers.
Ask when the best time to talk is and keep in mind any different time zones between you both. Keep all conversations brief and on point. Be courteous but businesslike.
Don’t allow yourself to be bullied
If you find yourself in the position where you’re doing more than the contract specified, take a minute and regroup. Go over the contract specifics. Make sure to review the specifics and discuss the new project requirements with your client.
Explain that the new requirements will take more time and will cost more than the original fee. Offer to fulfil the new requirements for an additional fee and specify how this will be paid.
Keep all conversations light but remain in control. Don’t allow yourself to be pushed into doing something that you’re not comfortable with or making changes that weren’t discussed previously.
If you have to make changes or correct an error, don’t allow the client to deduct the cost of these changes from the original project fee. Explain your position to your client and stand your ground.
Standing your ground is something that many of us aren't comfortable with. However, in business, and real life, it’s necessary if you don’t want to be bullied.
If a situation like this occurs early on in the project, the kill fee you included in the contract, letter, or email will come in handy. Use it and walk away.
Never put yourself in a situation where you are not in control or where you have second thoughts about a client or project. It isn't worth it.
Bottom line: a well-designed contract should avoid any potential problems in a project.
Before I begin another project, either with an individual or with a publisher, I plan to make sure that the job specifics are spelled out and crystal clear. I will also add a kill fee to the contract and if there’s an inkling that the project is not going well, I will walk away.
Copyright 2012 Cassie Armstrong
Cassie Armstrong is a professional editor and the founder of MorningStar Editing. She's a recovering college English teacher and member of the Editorial Freelancers Association with over six years' editing experience. Her clients are primarily individual authors and trade publishers who specialize in fiction and non-fiction subjects, from biographies to YA novels. Cassie enjoys working with yarn and thread in her spare time and is developing a complementary speciality in editing books about crafting.
Contact Cassie via her website MorningStar Editing, Twitter @MorningStarEdit, and LinkedIn.
In this interview, I talk to author Michael K Rose.
I love hearing about the the joys and challenges of being a self-publisher, the new technologies and procedures indie authors are using, and how they manage the process of being both publisher and writer.
I'm a massive a science-fiction fan so when, in 2011, a Twitter pal posted something about Michael's work, I took note and started reading. I wasn't disappointed.
The thing I love about Michael's stories is that they stray well beyond the boundaries of what some might consider to be traditional sci-fi; his readers are as likely find themselves exploring the inner space of the mind as the outer reaches of space.
This interview was conducted in 2012, at which stage he'd published a collection of short stories, and one novel, with a second in revision stage. Since then, that book's been published, and he's added another 11 to the stable!
Louise Harnby: First of all, Michael, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing? Have you always focused on science fiction, broadly speaking? What’s the appeal of this genre for you?
Michael K Rose: I've always enjoyed the broad genre known as speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, etc.) but sci-fi has, for me, been a life-long love, whether it be in the form of films, television shows or books. Some of my earliest writings were science fiction, and while I have dabbled in other genres (and have several non-science fiction projects in the works) I believe that the majority of my work as a writer will be science fiction.
LH: I read The Vast Expanse Beyond: 10 Short Stories a few months ago and absolutely loved it. I’m already a fan of both the short-story format and the sci-fi genre, but what really stood out for me with this collection was how it managed to surprise as well as entertain me – I didn't always know where the boundaries were between sci-fi and psychology. Is that something you particularly like to play with in your writing?
MKR: I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I don't always know where a story is going to take me, especially when writing short stories (for my novel-length works I have a clearer idea, and I do outline, but nothing is off the table even then). I love all types of science fiction (hard, soft, over easy) but, as others have stated, science fiction is ultimately about people.
And people experience things psychologically, emotionally, not just physically. Placing a story in a science-fictional setting with all its wonderful technology and meticulous world-building should not be an excuse to neglect this aspect of story-telling. We, as readers, don't always know the state of mind of the characters.
Even if the story-teller (me, in this case) indicates one thing, there is no way of knowing if I'm even being honest with you. Straight story-telling is fine, and for the most part that is what you'll get in my novel Sullivan's War, but when it comes to short stories I tend to try different things. It's how I can play without wasting a month's worth of work if it doesn't turn out.
I will mention that the sequel to Sullivan's War, Sullivan's Wrath, does play a lot more with psychology and characters' states of mind.
LH: One of the stories in the collection, "Sergeant Riley’s Account", is a prologue the Sullivan’s War series. How did that come about? Was it harder to write with a pre-existing story line in your head, or did it help you flesh out the first novel in full?
MKR: "Sergeant Riley's Account" was written long before the idea for Sullivan's War emerged. I also had most of a novel called Chrysopteron written, but I didn't feel as though it was close to being ready for public consumption.
So for my first novel-length project, I decided that I wanted something action-oriented, something that would be fun to write but that still had some depth. "Sergeant Riley's Account" gave me the universe in which to set Sullivan's War as well as the narrative style that I wanted to use. I also had a couple of short stories that made their way into Sullivan's War, and that helped flesh out the novel quite a bit.
Are there other short stories to which you might return in the future because you have more to say? In “Inner Life”, for example, I felt that devilish itch a reader sometimes gets with a great short story to explore the protagonist’s world just a little more!
MKR: Thank you! Your saying that means that I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. If a reader is left wanting more, s/he is likely to seek out more work by the author. I don't plan on revisiting any of the characters in The Vast Expanse Beyond but it's not outside the realm of possibility. Right now I'm writing twelve novels in twelve months [see below] so short stories are, for the moment, on the back burner. But I love writing (and reading) them, so there will definitely be another collection at some point in the future.
LH: Can you tell us a little about your editing process, Michael? Do you use proofreaders or copy-editors to put the final polish on your work before it gets published? If so, what does the process involve for you in terms of finding the right person for the job and communicating your expectations to them? Do you have any concerns about this element of the process?
MKR: I actually don't use an editor or proofreader at this time. When I first began self-publishing, I had everyone and their dog telling me I needed an editor. Some even went so far as to say that any book published without an editor would, essentially, suck.
I began by e-publishing a few short stories. I wasn't too concerned about it at that time. But when I put together my first print book, my collection The Vast Expanse Beyond, I knew that any errors could not be easily fixed once it went to press. So I did the work that needed to be done.
I'm blessed (and cursed) with a rather meticulous mind and I tend to notice errors in just about every book I read. I also spent not a little time researching grammar, punctuation, etc.
Can I edit as well as a professional whose spent years doing the work? No. Of course not. Can I self-edit to the point where the vast majority of readers will not notice an occasional missing comma? Yes.
And for me, the difference between my work before being looked at by an editor and after being looked at does not justify the expense.
I do have friends who beta read for me and they also help me find some errors, but by the time my work is ready to be published I have personally gone through it at least half a dozen times (including re-reading during the writing and revision process).
And the work has paid off. Several people have complimented me on the professional appearance of my books.
But I do not recommend self-editing for most authors. However, if an author does decide to self-edit, I would strongly recommend taking the time to brush up on grammar and punctuation. When I did so I discovered that I held many erroneous assumptions about proper usage.
LH: Earlier, you mentioned the #12NovelsIn12Months writing project. You prepared a Q&A in anticipation of the questions you thought you’d be asked. The first was, “Are you insane?” I’m not going to repeat that here because such an ambitious project clearly deserves closer scrutiny. Would you talk us through it?
MKR: Right now, my circumstances allow me to write full-time. That may not always be the case, so I have decided that for the next year I will write a full novel each month. As I wrote on my blog, I have a dream to make a living solely from my writing.
If I don't pursue that dream now and do everything I possibly can to make it happen, the opportunity may not come again. I do not want to wake up one morning ten years from now and realize that I let my dream slip through my fingers. I will fight for it.
Even if it does not come to pass, I can resign knowing that I did everything that was in my power to make it happen. Producing twelve full novels over the next year is, quite literally, everything I can do.
LH: To date, you've self-published. It’s exciting to see talented writers taking this particular journey and, in the process, bending the traditional rules of publishing. I imagine you've put a lot of hard work into not only the writing but also the digitization and marketing of your books. Have these elements of the publishing process come easily to you or have there been challenges along the way, too?
MKR: Of course there have been challenges. I spent countless hours playing with html formatting and researching how to create particular effects to make my ebooks as professional as possible.
Writing a story and letting Amazon's (or some other entity's) software convert it into an ebook for you is easy. But that ebook is probably not going to look the way you want it to look. I also learned how to use photo-editing software to create book covers, which prior to self-publishing I had only toyed with. I began developing my social media presence, making connections with other authors, starting a speculative fiction webzine, giving interviews.
This is on top of the work I did honing my grammatical skills so I could properly edit my work. Oh, and there was a little bit of writing in with all that, too. It has been an incredible amount of work and anyone who wishes to self-publish must know that if you want to be successful at it (and I do consider my results so far a success) then you have to either spend the money to have someone do all the things I've talked about or else take the time to learn how to do them and do them well.
LH: Would you ever go down the traditional publishing route, now that you've mastered the art of doing it yourself? Would you feel that you’d lose some degree of control or would you welcome this as another avenue of opportunity?
MKR: If the terms were agreeable, I would of course consider "trad" publishing. But I am very proud of what I have accomplished as an Indie writer and will always support Indie writers when I can.
LH: You probably get asked all the time to give advice on how to go about publishing your own novel, so I’m going to throw the question on its head and ask you what your top three “Don’ts” are.
MKR: Hmmm ... 1) Don't go in with any expectations with regards to sales or reception. The only thing you can control is your book, not how people will respond to it. If you are happy with what you have done and know that you have given it your all, that is a success, even if you never sell more than a hundred copies.
2) Don't go it alone. Even before you begin to think about self-publishing, start making connections with other self-published authors. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity I found in the Indie community and have done what I can to help other authors who have sought out my advice. There are people out there to help you. Don't be afraid to ask, but don't be upset if they decline. Most Indie writers must write in addition to holding a day job, raising children, etc. Ask for advice but don't ask too much of others unless you've developed a strong relationship with them.
3) I'll quote Henry James: "Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind." You never know who your next biggest fan/supporter will be. Avoid divisive discussions about politics, religion, etc. Treat others with respect. Don't make negative comments about other writers. If you act like a professional, people will treat you like a professional.
LH: And finally, what plans do you have for the future, Michael? Anything in the pipeline that you’d like to share with us? Yes, I want to know about Chrysopteron! Can you give us a little teaser of what we can expect?
MKR: Chrysopteron is the next novel that will be published. It is currently under revision and I hope to have it out by Christmas. This is the blurb that appeared in the back of The Vast Expanse Beyond: "Five generation ships were sent from Earth in the hopes of colonizing distant planets. The Chrysopteron was one of them. In a tale that examines issues of faith and self-determination, Michael K. Rose explores just what it is that makes us human. Will we ever be able to engage those who are different from us with love and understanding, or is the human race destined to forever be divided by trivial concerns? Even though we may leave the Earth, we cannot leave behind that which makes us human."
I am sure the blurb will undergo several revisions between now and publication but hopefully that will have whet readers' appetites. I've lived with the characters in Chrysopteron for about three years now and they are very real to me. I am taking my time with it because I owe it to them to get this one right.
Thank you so much for the interview!
LH: Thank you, Michael. The glimpse you've given us of how you go about writing, editing and publishing is fascinating and inspiring. I appreciate your taking the time to share it.
Michael K Rose is a science fiction, fantasy and paranormal author. His first major work, Sullivan’s War, has been called “… a sci-fi thriller that definitely delivers!” His second novel, Chrysopteron, has been hailed as a “… gem of a novel…” and “a masterpiece.”
Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Arizona State University. He currently resides in the Phoenix area and enjoys board games, tabletop role-playing games and classical music.
For more information, please visit his official website or his blog Myriad Spheres. You can also connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.
Louise Harnby is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in working with crime, mystery, suspense and thriller writers.
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and co-hosts The Editing Podcast.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Fiction Editor & Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, connect via Facebook and LinkedIn, and check out her books and courses.
In this interview, Jo Bottrill talks about life in the busy project management agency Out of House Publishing.
Louise Harnby: Thanks for agreeing to talk to the Parlour, Jo. First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the publishing business?
Jo Bottrill: I lead the Out of House team in helping academic and education publishers produce books and digital content. I have worked as a production manager with some of the leading scholarly publishers, working across print and digital media. For much of my career I have worked with XML and I am excited about the opportunities for bringing print and digital production together.
I enjoy finding solutions to the challenges publishers face. It's important to me to keep things simple and efficient – by doing so we can do more with less. My interest in publishing started at school, where I was torn between my love for the sciences and English literature – I decided to follow the science route but resolved to get into publishing or journalism to marry the two. I started my career in science publishing but now work across all the academic subjects.
LH: Could you tell our readers a little about the company you run? What services do you offer and in which subject areas do you specialize?
JB: Out of House Publishing is a publishing production company based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. We specialize in producing books and digital content for academic and education publishers, organizing every aspect of the production process from manuscript development to final delivery.
We understand the demands publishers face and tailor our services to anticipate their needs. We help produce over 200 new titles each year across a wide range of subject areas – I looked at our list this morning and we have titles ranging from Optical Magnetometry to a study of the Victorian novel, and everything in between.
LH: Editorial freelancers who’ve never worked in publishing are sometimes unaware of the procedures and pressures of that production staff face. What are the main challenges you have to deal with in your business?
JB: We’re working hard to produce high-quality books in a reasonable time and for the best price possible. While we put the quality of our work at the forefront of our efforts, we neglect schedules and budgets at our peril.
Our customers depend on absolute timeliness and are working to very tight margins, as are we. What’s more, we have the good name of our publishers to uphold – not only are we producing books, we’re also looking after authors – making sure they are justifiably proud of the book we've produced together. It’s important that they look back on the production process fondly.
In all of this we are looking after people and that’s our biggest single challenge – making sure that everyone is happy and that where things have gone wrong we put them right quickly.
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?
JB: For me, the most exciting opportunity is in bringing print and digital production together. Having our editors and proofreaders getting their hands dirty with content gives us a perfect opportunity to think about how digital versions are going to work, from simply checking that cross-references are correctly hyperlinked, to identifying opportunities for adding enhanced content such as video, audio or animation.
Start-ups and visionaries are pushing the boundaries of technology; our job is to make sure the simple things work, that end-users receive high-quality content that will work on their preferred devices. There’s a temptation to overcomplicate these things – my interest is in building efficient workflows that produce without too much fuss!
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?
JB: Training. Experience. Test. Those are the three hurdles we need freelancers to cross. We can be flexible – some of our most trusted freelancers have little or no formal training but bucket loads of experience and a great reputation. We really only take Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and Publishing Training Centre (PTC) courses seriously – they both seem to give people a genuine feel for the needs of their future customers.
We do take degree and postgraduate qualifications into account when considering which subject areas a freelancer will be best suited to. Experience must be relevant, we won’t be recruiting a copy-editor experienced in editing novels to copy-edit a complex humanities title with short-title references.
LH: One of the things I've been most struck by (and find most useful) is the detailed feedback that the members of your in-house team give your editorial freelancers. Is this something that’s house policy and if so what was the driving force behind this?
JB: Sending feedback is a definite house policy – we encourage all of our project managers to pass constructive feedback to our suppliers; and we seek the same feedback from the customers and authors we work with.
We’re very deliberate in the way we take on freelancers – modelling our pool of suppliers to the volume and type of content we expect to be working on. In so doing we’re aiming to build a team of people who understand our business, and who in turn we understand and respect.
Equally we rely on our freelancers to point out where we’re going wrong, to help us improve our service and to keep things as efficient as possible for everyone involved.
LH: How to you find your editorial freelancers? Or do they find you?
JB: Freelancers increasingly find us, and we do carefully consider every approach from a prospective supplier. We have advertised with the SfEP in the past, and if we have a shortage in a particular subject area we will search the SfEP and Society of Indexers directories.
LH: You’ve told us about the challenges and pressures of working in the publishing project management business. What’s the nicest thing about your job – the element you enjoy the most?
JB: Getting excellent feedback from a happy author is the best feeling. Meeting an impossible deadline also gives me a real buzz, but best of all is taking pride in the team we've built under the Out of House banner – both in-house and freelance.
LH: From your particular business point of view, what are the most exciting developments taking place in publishing at the moment?
JB: There are too many to mention. Digital is clearly opening up so many new opportunities for selling and consuming content. With opportunity comes risk and we need to be wary of the disruption digital developments will bring to the supply chain and respond accordingly. If we’re passionate about getting good content out to people who want to read it then we should be excited about the future.
In that vein, Open Access is a major force that will play a big part in moulding and disrupting the industry that gives us our living. Consumers of scholarly books and journals are pushing hard for more open-access content. There are numerous models for funding this but it’s likely that we’re going to be working more closely with the scholarly community in quite different ways very soon.
Changes in the classroom promise to shake things up too – Apple iBooks is only just getting going and digital textbooks, elearning and remote teaching all have the potential to significantly change what we produce. We’re at the coalface of content production and that puts us in a great position to take the lead.
It helps if you have a grasp of basic arithmetic if you’re working with financial texts but it’s not essential, argues Louise Bolotin. Understanding context is far more important ...
I’ll be the first to admit that maths is not my strong point. I can tot up a Scrabble score in my head and divide a restaurant bill between four friends, but I only scraped a C in my O-level maths (without a calculator, my grade would have been far lower) and I regularly joke about needing to take my socks off to count past 20. Numerate I am not. Yet, for the past 12 years I have built up a flourishing specialism editing financial books and reports for a range of clients, from publishing houses to investment banks.
I was already an experienced copy-editor when I took a job at a major investment bank in the Netherlands. I was appointed for my editing skills, of course, and hadn’t the first idea about banking beyond my lay knowledge as a high street bank customer.
Was I nervous? Understatement. Colleagues in the editing team checked over my work during my first week on the job, but couldn’t save me from errors such as mistaking “flattening” for “flattering” when talking about financial results (the first means the figures are down, the latter up). Who knew one letter could paint such a massively different picture of a company’s financial health?
In my favour, I managed not to move any decimal points in the actual numbers, which could have had a disastrous effect on a company’s share price. After that, I was on my own – part of a team but expected to be able to handle the work without being nannied.
My boss sent me on a training course – I spent five days alongside a dozen City whizz-kids (all male) learning how to calculate the equity value of a company (that’s basically the share price to you, dear reader) – but by then I’d already been in the job five months.
I finished the course unable to complete those vital calculations (did I mention I’m innumerate?) but what the training did do was give me a very deep understanding of the context and I left with the skill of being able to cast a swift eye over a profit and loss sheet and spot any glaring errors.
If I’m honest, I was finally able to understand it. In short, the course knocked off the last rough edges.
Most financial editing is not figures but text, of course, and as with any other subject a solid understanding of the topic is what matters. It doesn’t matter too much if you can’t calculate the equity value of a company – what does matter is understanding what equity is (the value of an asset after any debt attached to it is paid off) and what it means to the intended readership.
Thus, knowing that return on equity (ROE) is basically how much profit or dividend an investor will earn from their shares in a given financial period and why it differs from return on investment (ROI, a metric used to calculate how efficient an investment is, i.e. is the investment delivering gains) or return on assets (ROA, an indicator of how profitable a company is relative to its total assets) is critical.
As another example, it pays to know the difference between ROE and ROCE, the latter standing for return on capital employed, which is a ratio that indicates the efficiency and profitability of a company's capital investments.
As you can see, finance, like many other specialist topics, has its own language. There are a lot of acronyms that need to be learned and understood, not to mention some very arcane jargon. Even I struggle to remember exactly what a “dead cat bounce” is (a small, temporary recovery in a declining share price), and don’t ask me why it’s called that as I haven’t the foggiest. Understanding how capital works and the above-mentioned concepts and their ilk is probably more important than the actual numbers.
With investment banking, which is my specialism, there are never any guarantees and nothing is predictable. You can suggest, but you can’t promise. So if your author writes, “when tomorrow’s results are announced the share price will go up” your job is to change it to, “when tomorrow’s results are announced the share price is expected to rise”.
Every single sentence has to be scrutinized for such claims – the only thing you can leave intact are facts, as they are historical: “when the results were announced, the share price immediately rose to $10”.
Finance is a global industry so you can never not edit such things as “last year”, “in the autumn”, “at 8am”, etc. Context is everything and vagueness is a no-no, so I would change such things to “2011”, “in the period October–December” and “0800 CET” so they are factual and can be easily understood by an international readership. Oh, and another thing – it’s rare to see something like $10 as many countries use a dollar as their currency, so it’s important to specify if you mean US$10, A$10 or CAD$10 …
Also important is an understanding of financial regulation. All countries have regulatory bodies that determine the rules for financial institutions and it’s essential to have a basic knowledge of the regulatory arena as this will affect how you edit.
For several years I edited daily equity reports for an overseas bank that was trading shares on the London Stock Exchange for its investment clients. As its sole UK editor, I was the thin blue line that ensured my client’s reports did not breach the Financial Services Authority’s rules on financial reporting.
That’s a lot of scary responsibility – I was under daily pressure not to screw up this aspect because of the terrible consequences it would trigger.
Regulation also covers the thorny issue of ethics if you edit anything to do with investments. Insider trading is against the law everywhere and carries severe penalties – staff editors work inside a “Chinese wall” that separates them from the company’s traders and have to sign non-disclosure agreements as well as an employment contract when starting work.
Staffers are also not permitted to buy or sell investments without their employer’s approval. As a freelance, it’s on your honour to abide by the same rules.
Thus I have strict personal rules.
Firstly, I never discuss the minutiae of any market-sensitive material I’m working on so as not to breach insider trading laws – I might tell a friend or partner in passing that I edited a report on Company A but not the details. At all.
Secondly, I avoid conflicts of interest by not telling any of my commercial clients who my other current commercial clients are and ensuring that I keep such work separate from each other, don’t allow one to influence another and that nothing slips from my lips in error. In short, there’s a Chinese wall in my head.
Thirdly, if any friends ask me for investment advice, I only offer general advice such as not putting all their spare cash in any one company – if they want advice on Company A, I suggest they find a broker.
Fourthly, I don’t trade shares for myself – when I do have spare money to invest, I put it into tangibles instead (tangibles is things – art, wine, gold, jewellery, ephemera, antiques…) so I don’t risk insider trading at any level. As a freelance, I exercise huge personal discipline in managing my workload in this area.
Finance is a wide field and not all areas of it will suit everyone working in it – I briefly took on some freelance work editing blue-chip accountancy reports and while it was not a total disaster, it wasn’t a good match for my knowledge or skills. I decided to stick to banking.
If your background is financial and you’re thinking of moving into editing or proofreading, you’ll have a good basis for a career once you’ve acquired the editorial skills. If, like me, you come into the field without background knowledge, training in finance is pretty much essential – get some in-house experience if you can or find a course that will give you a short, intense introduction to the subject. Then buy a good specialist dictionary or two – I have around half a dozen myself and even after 12 years I still use them regularly.
As someone who’s pretty rubbish with numbers, I was surprised to discover how much I absolutely love editing financial stuff. It’s the sheer variety of it – when I’m editing equities, I’ll be working with copy written about all kinds of industries and sectors from steel and coal to retail via pharmaceuticals and the stock-exchange listed companies that produce or sell such things (in the process learning huge amounts of interesting things that I’d probably never have got round to looking up in a library).
I get offered book editing work that ranges from hedge fund strategies to Islamic banking principles via risk management for insurance companies.
A lot of people’s eyes glaze over at the mention of finance, expecting it to be boring, but it’s not – when money makes the world go round it makes sense to be interested in it and to find it interesting. Picking up the skills to edit or proofread the mountain of words written about it is just the next step.
Louise Bolotin is a freelance editor and journalist
Copyright 2012 Louise Bolotin
With the release of version 2 of PerfectIt, it seemed the ideal time to put some questions to Daniel Heuman, managing director of Intelligent Editing. I've been a PerfectIt user for some years and I'm looking forward to upgrading to the new version.
Visit the Intelligent Editing website for more information about PerfectIt. You might also like the PerfectIt User Forum, where you can ask questions, suggest improvements and download style sheets.
In the meantime, if you're open to complementing your editorial eye with useful ancillary tools, and want to learn a little more from the developer, read on ...
Louise Harnby: For the benefit of those who’ve never used PerfectIt, Daniel, tell us a bit about what it does.
Daniel Heuman: PerfectIt is a consistency checker. Just as you have a spell checker for spelling, and a grammar checker for grammar, PerfectIt checks documents for consistency mistakes. For example, if you hyphenate "copy-editor" in one location in a document, it’s important to make sure that’s consistent throughout. So PerfectIt checks consistency of hyphenation, capitalization, abbreviations, numerals in sentences, list punctuation and many other things.
PerfectIt also helps check points of style. PerfectIt can be customized with house style preferences and used to check those. For example, one editor programmed PerfectIt to check WHO (World Health Organization) style and made that available to all users. Anyone wanting to check WHO style can just load up that stylesheet and PerfectIt will check for over 1600 preferences. From "hyponatraemia" (not "hyponatremia") to "corrigenda" (not "corrigendums"), that’s an invaluable resource to anyone working with the style.
Finally, PerfectIt helps tidy up documents. It checks that abbreviations are defined, that users haven’t left notes to themselves in text (e.g. "NB: insert figure here") and it can create a table of abbreviations (automatically locating all abbreviations and their definitions) in seconds.
LH: I was discussing all things business to a friend of mine who’s a marketing manager. He writes a lot of quite lengthy reports for internal and external use. I suggested PerfectIt to him and his response was: "I don’t see the need for something like that – there’s a spell check on my PC and I’ve got a good eye.” What would you say to him?
DH: I’d probably scream “oh-my-god-you-are-wasting-your-life!” Actually, that’s not true … I’m English, so I’d probably roll my eyes and walk away!
The truth is that there are two reasons why he should be using PerfectIt. The first is speed. How long does it take him to find one inconsistency? He needs to read through his entire text, locate each word that is capitalized and check/remember to capitalize that word throughout. Then he needs to do the same for hyphenation, abbreviations, heading case, and so much more. PerfectIt finds all of that in seconds. He really is wasting his life by doing it the long way.
The second reason for him to switch to PerfectIt is quality. PerfectIt helps users to really take pride in their work. It isn’t possible for the human brain to keep track of consistency once documents pass several thousand words. Some 80% of documents over 1000 words that are published online contain a capitalization inconsistency, and over 60% contain a hyphenation inconsistency (see The Top 10 Consistency Mistakes). Even if we restrict it to spelling, over 20% of documents over 1000 words that are published online contain a spelling inconsistency. There’s nothing a spell checker can do about that last category. The word "adviser" and "advisor" are both correct spellings. But if they appear in the same document, that’s an inconsistency. Some people won’t ever be convinced. But the stats are real. And as soon as they try PerfectIt, they get it.
LH: So PerfectIt’s not just for editors or proofreaders. It feels like you developed it with a much broader audience in mind …
DH: My background is in economics, and I started out as an economic consultant. Most of the tests that PerfectIt carries out are based on real world experience at that time. For example, we’d deliver reports for businesses and government, but at the end of each report we’d have to go through carefully and make sure that bullets were consistently capitalized and punctuated. We’d check that abbreviations were defined in their first instance, and that they were only defined once. So PerfectIt was designed very much for that market, with a focus on consultants, engineers, lawyers, and medical professionals.
It was only when PerfectIt was released that it was adopted by the editing community, translators and technical writers. In terms of overall revenue, the big companies are probably more significant. But in terms of volume, it’s the individual editors who have been most important. I stopped counting sales to members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders after it reached 100. And the success is similar with other editing societies around the world. But it’s not just about volume. Editors are wonderful customers because they send feedback. Is there any group in the world better at spotting flaws in editing software? You better believe I get a lot emails with examples that PerfectIt has missed. The result is that we’re always improving the product based on the mails we get.
LH: I’ve been pleased to see that you email me and your other customers with updates every now and then. Can you tell us about the driving factors behind these updates? And if f I say to you, “I’d really like it if PerfectIt did X or Y”, might I expect to see my suggestion in future versions?
DH: Yes, we can’t include all suggestions, but we have a place on our user forum where customers can bounce around feedback for future versions. For the first three years, those updates have all been free. And the ones suggested by users include support for multiple style guides, and the system for dealing with tracked changes in documents.
After three years, PerfectIt 2.0 will be the first major version upgrade that users will have to pay for. PerfectIt has a permanent licence (no subscription fee or anything like that), so in order to justify people spending more money on it, we’ve had to load PerfectIt 2 with user requests and lots of other new features. In particular, we’ve added a "Back" button (possibly the most requested feature) and a system for generating reports on errors and on changes made, which is probably the second most requested feature.
LH: And what are the biggest challenges you’ve faced during development?
DH: The constant challenge is to choose between complexity and usability. The more features and tests we add to the product, the more complex it becomes. But what people love about PerfectIt is the ease of use. So we’re constantly trying to balance those two. With any new feature, the first question is: "Can we get the software to do that?" But the second question is: "Will it be easy for the user to understand?"
LH: Does PerfectIt work for customers outside the UK? Some of the North American or Pacific Rim readers may be wondering if they can use it.
DH: PerfectIt is international. It doesn't duplicate the functions of a spelling checker, but it will spot inconsistencies in language. So, for example, it won't correct "realise" or "realize". However, if "realise" and "realize" appear in the same document, that’s a consistency mistake. Whether you’re in Europe, North America or the Pacific Rim, a consistency mistake is still a consistency mistake.
LH: People are often concerned about buying software and then finding out that it doesn’t do what they hoped. Can you try it before you buy it?
DH: There is a free download on the website. Users can try it without giving any credit card details or other personal information. Just download it and run it on a document.
When they try it, most people get what the product is about in seconds. The only suggestion we make is that PerfectIt is intended for longer documents. There’s no point in trying it out on a paragraph of text because that won’t contain many inconsistencies. Try PerfectIt on a document that’s over 1,000 words. Or better yet, try it on a document that’s over 10,000 words. That’ll show you what it can do.
LH: What does the future look like at Intelligent Editing? Do you have any plans for additional software tools or plug-ins?
PerfectIt 2 took an enormous amount of development time and effort, so it might be a while before we start anything new. However, there are a few projects under consideration, so we’ll let you know when we’ve decided.
LH: I often post on this blog about my favourite editorial tools. Aside, of course, from PerfectIt, what are your favourite tools and resources? Anything you like … software, books, online resources and social media.
DH: My favourite free tool for writing and editing is ClipX. It modifies the clipboard so that it shows the last 25 items that were copied, no matter what program they were copied in. After using it, I can’t understand why anyone would choose to work without it.
It’s more for writing than for editing, but I think that Word’s "AutoCorrect" feature is underrated. Why write out the word ‘"necessary" when you can program AutoCorrect to spell the word in full when you type ‘"nry"? You can quickly build yourself up an entire vocabulary and save lots of time typing.
I’m also a really big fan of Jack Lyon’s Editorium macros. Jack has put a lot of thought into the documentation, and the result is a system that helps you to work a lot faster. People don’t believe that faster keystrokes and saving a second or two each time can make a difference. But they really do.
LH: And finally, tell us something that might surprise us!
DH: In my other life, I’m a swing dancer. That’s partner dancing to big band jazz and old-time blues … and nothing at all to do with editing!
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 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.
A note from Louise: This article was written back in 2012 by my colleague Anna Sharman. For those of you looking for other avenues to explore in a bid to build up your work flows and client portfolios, especially if you have a scientific background, this is a must-read. Anna now runs her own dedicated scientific editorial consultancy, Cofactor, but back in 2012 she worked for a number of editing agencies.
Over to Anna ...
What do I do?
I am a copyeditor and proofreader specializing in biomedical journal articles. As well as working for journals on articles that have been accepted, I also work with scientists to get their articles ready for submission to journals. Some of this work comes through editing agencies.
I got into this field through doing a PhD and postdoctoral research in developmental/evolutionary biology and then working as an in-house editor on three biology journals. I went freelance in 2005.
What are editing agencies?
Academic editing agencies act as a bridge between freelance editors and authors. Authors who want to have a paper edited can find it hard to know which of the many editors out there are any good.
For freelance editors, working directly for authors can be hard because each author will only have a small number of papers a year. So agencies have sprung up to help authors find editors and vice versa.
Generally, these agencies offer editing of the language. Some also offer developmental editing: a report on the content of the manuscript, with suggestions on any obvious gaps in the logic or areas that are unclear.
Academic editing agencies have probably been around for a long time, but I think they have increased in number in recent years. They have arisen in response to pressure from journals for well written manuscripts. Journals are generally happy to consider manuscripts that have minor errors or that don't read as if they were written by a fluent English speaker. However, if a manuscript is so badly written that peer reviewers cannot work out what experiments are being described, the journal cannot reasonably send it for peer review without further work.
In addition, journals are always trying to cut costs, and freelance editors (unfortunately) are seen as expensive. Manuscripts that do get through peer review generally still need copyediting, to ensure that they make sense, use consistent terminology and symbols and are in good English. To cut down on copyediting costs, some publishers are asking authors to get their articles edited at their own expense.
The expansion of editing agencies is also the result of an enormous expansion of science in China and other Asian countries. Although many non-fluent researchers ask fluent English-speaking colleagues to check their work, in most Asian institutes there are not enough fluent speakers to check all the papers being produced. In addition, Chinese academics are often rewarded financially for publications in English-language journals, which means that it can make sense to pay for editing to make this more likely.
Some publishers have now entered into partnerships with editing agencies. This means that if a manuscript is rejected because of language problems, or if revision is invited after peer review but language problems have been mentioned by the reviewers, the journal suggests that the authors get their manuscript checked by a fluent speaker, and sometimes recommends a particular editing agency.
Sometimes authors from that journal publisher receive a discount on the agency's fees. Other publishers list a selection of agencies, without recommending one in particular, in their instructions for authors (see, for example, this list from Public Library of Science and this list from Wiley). And some publishers have set up their own editing services (such as Elsevier and Nature Publishing Group).
What's distinctive about working for editing agencies?
I enjoy working for editing agencies for several reasons. In general, this kind of work has a lot of the advantages of working directly for authors but without many of the disadvantages.
I prefer working on pre-submission research papers because I am seeing the research soon after it happens, rather than months or years later. I like helping people get their science published despite language barriers, contributing in a small way to levelling the playing field caused by the predominance of English in academic publishing.
I also enjoy the challenge of working on a piece of writing at an early stage, because it means I can concentrate more on the meaning and less on fine points of formatting.
When copyediting for journals, I spend a large proportion of my time applying house style, adjusting spacing, fonts, capitalization and other such minor style points. With pre-submission editing, I can ignore most of that and concentrate on working out what the author is trying to say and how to make the meaning clearer.
Developmental editing gets even closer to the science and further from the stylistic details.
Like working for publishers, however, working for an agency has the advantage that if the author disagrees with you on any change, the agency can arbitrate. And, as I mentioned above, agencies can channel a steady stream of papers your way, from many authors, saving the time and effort needed for marketing your services to a lot of different universities and institutes.
When you work for researchers, whether directly or through an agency, bear in mind that they often work weekends and through holidays, and that weekends and holidays differ between countries.
The agencies I work for all give deadlines in calendar days not working days, and if I want to have weekends off I have to specify this. Generally you can specify which days of the week you normally work and inform them when you will be on holiday, and they send work only when you are available. You have to remember to tell the agency about public holidays in your country – they won't necessarily know about them automatically.
What are clients looking for?
Academic agencies generally want editors who have experience in academia in the right field, which generally means a PhD and some published research. Some of them also want qualifications, training and/or experience in editing, though others do not – some even recruit active scientists who want to earn a little on the side. The agencies I work for, however, want experienced editors.
There is nearly always an editing test, at least for big agencies, to check whether you can cope with the kind of editing required. This will test not only what changes you make but also how you word your queries to the author (of which there will be a lot).
How to access the field
If you search online you will find lots of academic editing agencies, and many of them are looking out for qualified editors with PhDs all the time. I have heard, however, that some of them pay pretty badly, and of course it is always important to check out a potential client with whom you hope to have an ongoing working relationship. So how do you find reliable ones to start working for?
The best way is to go via the publishers, particularly any publishers you are already working for. Check in their online instructions to authors for agencies that they recommend. Then send a speculative email to an agency, giving a brief summary of your qualifications and experience.
The chances are that you will be given an editing test (which will probably be unpaid). Then, if you are accepted as one of their editors, there may be a period of training when your editing will be checked carefully and the rate of pay may be lower. If you fail the test, consider any feedback carefully but don't worry too much about not being good enough. It could be that your style of editing simply doesn't fit what the agency is looking for. Try another and don't give up unless you have taken several tests. Alternatively, this kind of editing might not be for you (see below).
What’s the pay like?
Agencies generally pay by number of words rather than by the hour. This means that it is difficult to work out how much you will get per hour, and that the hourly rate can sometimes work out low and sometimes high. I prefer working for a fixed fee as I tend to be quite a fast worker and enjoy finding ways to work more efficiently.
Because they are acting as intermediaries, agencies always take a cut of the fee that the author pays them. Working directly for the author would therefore pay more, in theory – but only if you can do enough marketing to get as much work as you would get through an agency.
When trying out a new agency, check the pay rate per thousand words (this will either be supplied when you enquire or be published on the agency's website). Then try to work out the speed at which you can edit this kind of material. If you are more used to editing accepted papers, assume this kind of work will be considerably slower. I suggest giving an agency a try for a few months to see whether the rates work out OK for you.
Some agencies pay very quickly after each job is completed; others pay two months or more later. Watch out for international bank charges, too – charges can be levied by intermediate banks that aren't in the control of either the sender's or the recipient's bank. Bear this in mind when working out whether the fees are worthwhile.
Is this kind of editing for you?
Editing material by authors whose English is limited isn't for everyone. You may prefer to work on manuscripts at a later stage, when they have already been approved by a publisher.
You may not know whether you enjoy this kind of work until you try it. But if you have a research background and some editing experience, I'd recommend it for the challenge. And if you want to work with pre-submission papers, going through an agency has definite advantages.
Copyright 2012 Anna Sharman
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and co-hosts The Editing Podcast.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Fiction Editor & Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, connect via Facebook and LinkedIn, and check out her books and courses.
Working with adult material (pornography and erotica) is clearly not for everyone, and it can occasionally be challenging, but it requires the same care and thought as anything else on the editor’s work pile.
My guest this week is editor and journalist Louise Bolotin. Here, she offers an editor’s guide to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, with a bit of blasphemy thrown in for good measure.
What’s your first thought when an editor offers you work that is quite clearly what’s usually described as 'adult material'?
Do you think, 'Eww, how disgusting!' and reply with a 'Thanks, but no thanks'? Or do you, like me, say yes because, you know, it’s just work and there’ll be a nice cheque at the end of it?
Hovering around as I do on professional forums, on the rare occasions the topic comes up it’s clear that most editors fall into the 'no way!' camp.
Working on anything explicitly sexual is always going to be a personal choice, although there’s a world of difference between editing a sex guide aimed at teens, with info on STIs and using condoms correctly, and hardcore or even medium-core erotica, the latter being the kind of material I’m most likely to work on in the genre. I’ve yet to be offered any Mills and Boon titles.
I’ve often found that when I’ve been approached to take on projects, it’s been accompanied with an apology and a warning of the content, particularly from large, well-known publishing houses.
Most memorably, an email I received offering work came complete with a chain of internal emails below the line, suggesting that the project should probably be given to a man as it was potentially offensive. Heaven forfend that a woman should edit anything explicit because we all know how difficult it is to buy smelling salts these days! I assured the project manager that I’m neither prudish nor easily offended and the manuscript was duly sent to me.
Editing strong language doesn’t bother me at all. I cut my career teeth as a journalist and newsrooms are renowned for their high swear word count – you won’t survive if you can’t cope with your editor telling you several times a day to 'get your fucking act tofuckinggether or get your fucking P45 on the fucking way out'.
However, there’s more to editing explicit work than not fainting at any effing and blinding in print. Material needs to be handled sensitively, whether it’s fiction or factual – this is someone’s work, after all, and it’s essential to put personal feelings aside. All the usual editing decisions need to be made – clarity, consistency, cutting and queries, plus creating style sheets for those trickier spellings.
I worked five years as a freelance copy-editor and commissioner for the fetish magazine Skin Two, aimed at people into rubber sex and clothing. While the photo spreads tend towards the erotic and daring, most of the feature articles are distinctly intellectual in tone rather than sexy – during my stint we ran serious articles on everything from censorship and depictions of non-mainstream sex in mainstream film to the subversion of Nazi symbolism for erotic enjoyment and the works of illustrative authors such as Alan Moore.
These features were usually between 3,000 and 5,000 words in length and on a par with anything you’d find in a dedicated arts magazine.
Flicking through back issues, it was clear my first task would be to create a style book suitable for such a distinctive magazine. I recall lengthy discussions with the editor about whether to opt for 'perv' rather than 'perve' or 'pervert' – our readership, chiefly A, B and C1, liked to call themselves thus with a knowing and cheeky nod to the more tabloid usage of such words.
The style guide needed to reflect both their intelligence and their community’s own home-grown terminology. Putting it together was an interesting crash course in the culture of a distinct sexual minority.
Perhaps the most memorable title I worked on was Jack the Ripper’s Secret Confession, one book in a long line of theories on the true identity of the UK’s first known serial killer. I’ve worked on several Ripper books and as an avid reader of crime fiction I’m used to gore.
This particular book theorised that the Ripper was a wealthy Victorian gentleman known only as Walter, a rapist who was obsessed with prostitutes and knives. His deeply explicit diaries were published in the same year as the Ripper began his spree.
Fewer than 20 copies were printed, they were banned for obscenity and the few surviving editions even today remain locked in the British Library’s famous 'closed cupboard', where scholars need to apply for permission to study them.
The diaries are, of course, out of copyright so the book authors were free to quote as much of them as they wished to stand up their theory – and quote they did. Whole chapters often consisted of fifty per cent or even more of passages from Walter’s pornographic journal.
Every sexual encounter of his was described in explicit four-letter word detail. I quickly became desensitised to the repetitive use of 'fuck', 'cunt', 'cock', 'minge' and more on almost every page.
Even filth needs editing
The temptation when this occurs is to glaze over the explicit passages and focus on the author’s own words. A bad mistake, as even filth needs editing.
I made an editorial decision to leave all spellings in the original (and being Victorian, they varied a fair bit from the standard spellings of today) as long as they were understandable, but to edit the punctuation rigorously for clarity.
Walter didn’t care much for commas or speech marks, you see, and some of his passages required extensive scrutiny to figure out what on earth he was saying.
These were highly challenging issues for a book that not only needed to be accessible for the modern reader and ensure the authors’ edited work was of sufficient merit as any other Ripperology title but also paid tribute, bizarre as it might seem, to the diaries the book had inspired.
I was secretly rather chuffed when one of the authors emailed me after publication to thank me and let me know that the Los Angeles Times had described it as a 'hyperventilating noxious stew wallowing in depravity' and called for it to be banned.
At least it was a well-edited noxious stew…
The challenging stuff ...
In truth, I found an earlier manuscript I worked on, about Jack the Ripper and other notorious serial killers throughout history, much harder.
There was little sexually explicit material but a very graphic description of what one murderer had done with his victims’ body parts burned my eyeballs and gave me sleepless nights for some time after.
Sometimes you edit stuff you’d rather not know about, but like the intrepid blokes who clean our sewers it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. With pride for doing a job well done. And, frankly, my trauma must have paled in comparison to that of the police officers who had to deal with that.
It's not for everyone
More recently I copy-edited a debut novel from a youngish author – a blackly comic yet highly literary tale about the Norwegian heavy metal music scene, rippled through with wall-to-wall blasphemy and explicit sex scenes that were nasty, brutish and (thankfully!) short.
Having begun my career as a rock journalist, this project was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever been offered but, like the others, it came with a warning – about the blasphemy in this case.
I’m an atheist so I was able to approach this with no misgivings but I completely understand that an editor with a faith, of any sort, might find this difficult material. The explicit sex I took in my stride but dealing with the religious issues, which were as much about Satanism as Christianity, needed a lot of care to ensure that the novel rang true while avoiding causing offence unnecessarily.
I did a huge amount of fact-checking on the internet – mainly on the Christian issues plus the heavy metal genre – as well as coming up with a style sheet that provided consistency on religious and other central themes.
Can you do it?
My take on editing adult material is that it really shouldn’t be beyond any experienced copy-editor worth their salt although I can understand that some will feel it’s not for them because of their personal beliefs, as is their right.
Such work needs the same meticulous attention to detail as any other. For those new to the industry it could be as good a way to gain experience as any, particularly as there seems to be a dearth among us who are willing to tackle the more challenging manuscripts.
Ian Dury sang 'sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll, is all my brain and body needs' – I like to think they are an important sector in the manuscripts I edit, too.
Copyright 2012 Louise Bolotin
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and co-hosts The Editing Podcast.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Fiction Editor & Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, connect via Facebook and LinkedIn, and check out her books and courses.
The Fiction Freelancing series presents the individual experiences of editorial freelancers working on the genre of fiction within both the publishing sector and the independent-author market. Here in Part II Ben Corrigan focuses on editing for non-publisher clients. Ben has been a freelance proofreader and copy-editor since 2009. Prior to that he was a proofreader for Yell and a TV-listings writer and sub-editor. He lives in Bristol. You can contact him via his website: The Whole Proof; and on Twitter: @thewholeproof.
Other posts in the series cover proofreading for trade publishers (Part I; Louise Harnby), editing adult material (Part III; Louise Bolotin), and editing genre fiction (Part IV; Marcus Trower).
As a freelance proofreader and editor with a passion for fiction, I consider myself extremely fortunate whenever I have the opportunity to work on poetry or prose.
Independent authors might approach an editor or proofreader for a number of reasons. In my experience, a significant proportion are thinking of sending their work to an agent or publisher and want to make sure the manuscript has been polished before they do so. I have also worked with authors who are planning to self-publish their work, or who have already self-published and want the next edition to be free from mistakes; who are intending to enter their writing in a competition; and who are curious about what an editor will bring to their work.
I did an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, graduating in 2008. The MA was a challenging, occasionally terrifying, and always inspiring experience. I would do it every year for the rest of my life if I could, because if you are passionate about writing, then being able to write, to share your writing with other writers, and to talk about writing week in, week out, is an amazing way to spend your time. As a colleague of mine said after the course, you really felt, for that year, as though you were a writer.
While I do not think that you need to be a writer to be an editor of fiction, the course taught me two important lessons: first, how to be a better reader; and, second, how it feels to receive feedback on your work. I can remember all too clearly how I felt the first time my writing was workshopped. I had not really shared my writing before then, and to have it subjected to such close scrutiny was bizarre. I understand that, whatever your subject, writing is extremely personal and an extension of yourself, and I try to keep that in mind whenever I am editing fiction, and to be sensitive when suggesting changes.
In the vast majority of my work with independent authors, my role has been as a copy-editor, or has covered the area between copy-editing and proofreading that Louise mentioned in her post. To date, I have not worked with an author who has wanted a structural edit. I have found that authors are generally happy with their story and are more concerned with the nuts and bolts of the writing. Naturally, having a clear brief before starting out is a must. For longer pieces, I will always offer to provide a sample so that the customer can see the kinds of changes and suggestions I might make.
My own approach to copy-editing when working with independent authors is to intervene as little as possible. Unless they have stated otherwise, I will assume that the writer is happy with what they have produced. This might seem self-evident. But it is important to be aware of how easy it can be, when editing, to start imposing your own style. For instance, I am aware that I am quite fond of commas. Where commas are preferential, I will prefer them. This may not be in line with the author’s style, and may not be appropriate for the writing. Of course, we all have our preferences, and that is one aspect to be conscious of when copy-editing. Does the writing have three or four semi-colons in each paragraph? Do you keep noticing the same adjective or the same expression? This kind of repetition might have been employed for effect, but if you are certain it hasn’t, you might feel you can improve the writing by varying the style. Any verbal or grammatical tic that might distract a reader, and break their suspension of disbelief, is worthy of consideration while editing.
The layout of the document can be a thorny issue, and is best discussed with the client. Poetry is a separate case, but for fiction, I will encourage an author to adopt a traditional layout that is easy to read: double spaced, a simple font (Times New Roman is fine), with paragraphs indented and with no spaces between them. (I use Word 2007 and do not understand why the default setting is to have a space between paragraphs … But that is a gripe for another time!) It helps to have an understanding of how fiction is (more often than not) presented: for instance, how to indicate a break in a chapter. The author might not know, and you can therefore help to bring clarity to a story by making the right changes.
In this regard, the layout of dialogue is probably the most demanding area when working on fiction. Louise made the important point of authors choosing to break with convention, and there are many ways to present and indicate dialogue: inverted commas, quotation marks, em dashes, or no punctuation at all. Cormac McCarthy is a good example of a writer who prefers not to use punctuation for dialogue. He is skilled (together with his editor, perhaps!) at making sure that, despite the lack of punctuation – and thus no obvious distinction between action and dialogue – there is no confusion over who is speaking and when. Whatever style the author chooses, an understanding of how to present dialogue simply and clearly, so that there is no doubt about which character is talking, is a must. This can be a particular issue if there are more than two characters in a scene. If I can’t follow the conversation, I will flag the offending lines for the author to clarify if they wish.
Character consciousness can also be indicated in a variety of ways. I have just started to read Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky, in which thoughts are presented in the same way as speech. This is perhaps unusual and old-fashioned, but is it wrong? ‘This is how to present character consciousness,’ he thought. This is how to present character consciousness, he thought. This is how to present character consciousness, he thought. I think these are all valid ways to present a character’s thoughts. The important point is to ensure a consistent approach has been taken.
I might look to sharpen up the writing by cutting out words that are redundant. An author may use multiple adjectives without realising that two are synonyms, for example. Similarly, adverbs can be abused and overused and are an element that I will sometimes be more ruthless with. If I was being pressed – which I am not, but this is my first blog post, so I am going to be bold and tell you anyway – I would say that the words most commonly (over)used by budding authors of prose fiction are ‘quickly’ and ‘slowly’. I think they are often employed to bring urgency to the writing – even in the case of ‘slowly’, which seems to be trying to add some drama to whatever action is being described. These kinds of words can be used once too often, in which case I will look to intervene and draw the author’s attention to the repetition.
There are of course basic aspects to editing fiction, such as ensuring characters’ names do not change inexplicably and that the action and description are not contradictory or unclear. I think there can be a certain mindset involved in carrying out a line-by-line edit – where you are looking closely at each sentence and the way it works – which may not involve seeing and understanding the bigger picture of the story and the way it unfolds. Louise highlighted the danger of enjoying proofreading fiction too much, and getting lost in the story. I don’t think this is such a problem when copy-editing fiction. In fact, I think the opposite might sometimes be the case, and the problem is that you don’t get lost in the story enough, and therefore fail to see holes and inconsistencies. Depending on the nature of the project, it can be helpful to read the text more than once so that you have a full appreciation of the setting, the characters, and the story.
In some cases I might go deeper into the writing and consider issues such as point of view (if the writing is in the third person). Point of view can be subtle and tricky, and I don’t want to go into it in too much detail in this post. I will say that it is generally more common for contemporary writing, when written in the third person, to take a close or limited third-person point of view, rather than an omniscient one. That means the action is seen from one character’s point of view. Authors might adopt this for the most part but slip into the points of view of other characters, turning a limited point of view into an omniscient one. If this is a mistake rather than deliberate, intervention may strengthen the writing. I might also look to move action into the moment, if possible, or at least suggest this as a possibility. For instance, a passage that begins ‘I often went to the shops’ might be more powerful if it can be turned into concrete action: ‘I went to the shops.’ This kind of intervention can involve significant rewriting and is best discussed with the author.
Freelance editing can offer up a great variety of interesting work, and, to me, fiction is the best example of this: always unique and never a chore. In a selfish sense, writers can also be a good source of repeat work! If you can develop a good working relationship with an author and perhaps bring something extra to their writing, they are likely to come back and use you again. Having gone through the process of working with an editor myself, when producing an extract for the MA anthology, I can testify to the virtues of having another set of eyes look at your writing.
I will end with a quote from a writer to an editor (the editor of a newspaper, I understand; the writer is Raymond Chandler): ‘when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.’ The method – ‘eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive’ – sounds to me like a sound one to adopt when editing fiction, too.
Copyright Ben Corrigan 2012
Have you copy-edited fiction for independent authors? If so and there's something you want to add about your own experiences, please let us know in the Comments section.
Louise Harnby: To kick off, Jen, tell us a little bit about Salt – who you are, how it started, where you’re based and what you publish.
Jen Hamilton-Emery: It’s 12 years now since we published our first book, and 10 years since Chris and I (Chris is my husband – together we run Salt) gave up our corporate careers to give Salt 100% of our time and attention. I’ll never forget when Chris told me he’d handed in his notice – that month Salt’s sales were £200 and I feared for our future! But it’s been the most gloriously exciting rollercoaster ride; I’m pleased we decided to do what we did. We’ve always published poetry, and for the past five years or so have also published short stories – a genre that we felt was much-neglected and deserved some championing. Since then we’ve published novels and more recently taken on some wonderful editors, Nick Royle, Roddy Lumsden, Steve Haynes and Linda Bennett, who are developing our fiction, poetry, sci-fi and crime lists respectively, all of which launch this year.
LH: You have an international author base. How do you find your authors and what are you looking for when you read the initial submission?
JHE: Our editors are actively involved in their respective genres, reading magazines and journals, going to readings, reading reviews and so on. We are always on the lookout for new, up-and-coming talent, as well as publishing people who have already made a name for themselves through publication elsewhere. It goes without saying that we are looking for a high standard of writing, but also for books that people will find new and interesting that we can market and sell. We also run two prizes: the Crashaw Prize for debut collections of poetry, and the Scott Prize for debut collections of short stories. The quality of manuscripts we receive for these is outstanding – there is so much good writing out there!
LH: I recently read AJ Ashworth’s Somewhere Else, or Even Here, an exquisitely written book of short stories that you published in 2011. To me the book felt like a perfect example of publishing with passion. John Thompson, author of Merchants of Culture (Polity Press, 2010), has written about the pressures on large, corporate presses to move away from high-risk publishing, and focus instead on so-called cash cows (celebrity memoirs spring to mind) in order to satisfy the demands of shareholders and venture capitalists who aren’t necessarily publishers at heart. It seems to me that this endangers the creative flair of the commissioning editor and limits the degree to which outstanding writers can find a voice. Salt, however, is a family-run, independent press. What does this mean for your publishing strategy and the philosophy behind your publishing vision? Does your independence give you more freedom to follow your heart?
JHE: We are very lucky that have the freedom to publish what we want. However, each commission has to have both the heart and the head in agreement. Our investment of time and money in bringing a book to market has to generate a profit otherwise we’d go bust! I’m so pleased that you enjoyed AJ Ashworth’s book – thank you. It was a winner of the 2011 Scott Prize and has since gone on to be shortlisted for the prestigious Edge Hill Prize. It is a perfect example of "publishing with passion" – she is a new writer, working in a traditionally difficult-to-sell genre. However, on saying that, some of the larger publishing houses have recently started to make a big deal about publishing short stories – we like to think that we’ve done something positive in making it a sexy genre.
LH: Can you tell us about the challenges that independent family-run publishers face in the current market and your approach to dealing with these? I’m particularly interested in the “Just One Book” campaign, which is one of the most creative and innovative methods I’ve seen from a publishing company in terms of engaging with its customers.
JHE: Many independent family-run businesses are finding these economic times tough ones to operate in. The recession hit us early on and in 2008 we launched our Just One Book campaign, which encouraged everyone to buy one book – if enough people did it, we’d sell enough to keep ourselves afloat. The response was tremendous, with people across the globe spreading the word and buying our books. Thanks to them we are here today. We took the time after that to redesign Salt – by bringing in new editors and diversifying our lists we would reach a wider audience; we also revisited our distribution and marketing arrangements, including taking on the services of a sales team.
LH: You award international annual prizes for first collections of stories and poetry. Can you tell our readers a little more about these awards and who is eligible?
JHE: The Crashaw Prize and the Scott Prize are open to anyone living in the UK, Ireland, the US and Australia and are for debut collections of poetry or short stories. We don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts (we used to but were inundated and could never find the time to read them), but we saw that for many people with debut collections it was difficult for them to get their work in front of an editor. This was our way of giving them a way in to having their work noticed, and equally, for us to discover and breathe life into new talent.
LH: What about e-publishing and Salt? The by-line on your website, “the home of beautiful books”, clearly demonstrates the care you give to the design element. How does this impact on decisions to publish digitally or in print? Is digital publishing something you’re looking to expand, in full or in part, in the future?
JHE: We put a lot of effort into making our books as good to look at as they are to read and as a side-line we run The Cover Factory, providing cover design services to many of the large trade and academic publishers. We also put a lot of effort into our typesetting and properly think through the size of our books so the reader has an all-round positive experience reading them. As far as ebooks go, we’re rather late adopters. A few of our books are available in both print and digital formats, but it’s not something we’ve rushed into. However, we think now we’ll start making more of our books available as ebooks – they lack all aesthetics, but nevertheless seem to becoming more popular, so needs must.
LH: How did The Cover Factory come about, what does it involve, and who are your clients?
JHE: We’ve always had feedback about the high quality of our covers and over the years have been approached by other publishers asking if we would consider designing for them. Only recently did we decide that we would, though I’m not sure why we took so long! Cambridge University Press, Polity Press, Bloomsbury, and Taylor and Francis are amongst our clients. We enjoy the work and the challenge of working for different publishers across their various lists. You can see some of the work we’ve done on The Cover Factory's website.
LH: And finally, Jen, what exciting projects do you have in the pipeline? Who are the writers we should be looking out for in the coming months? And what are your future goals for the press?
JHE: Goodness, where to start! Well, first of all we are crossing our fingers for AJ Ashworth’s Edge Hill shortlisting, and novelist Padrika Tarrant, whose book, The Knife Drawer, has been shortlisted by the Authors’ Club. We have just published the 2012 edition of The Best British Short Stories, which is one of our highlight books, and we’re looking forward to the autumn when its sister, The Best British Poetry, is being published. Later in the year we’re launching our new crime and sci-fi series, including Blood Fugue by Joseph D'Lacey and In the Family by CA James, plus some wonderful debut novels, including The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, and the 2012 Crashaw and Scott Prize winners. Plus, to coincide with National Short Story Week, we’re publishing a star-studded anthology of stories designed to be read aloud: Overheard, edited by Jonathan Taylor. As for the future – well, we want to continue publishing the best books. And winning the Booker Prize would be nice.
LH: Thank you so much, Jen. It’s been a pleasure. There’s plenty for us to look out for. And as a lover of the crime and sci-fi genres, I’m certainly adding D’Lacey and James to my watch list!
Update: Since this interview took place, Alison Moore's The Lighthouse has been short-listed for the Man Booker prize. The Parlour's fingers are crossed!
A note from Louise: This guest article from my colleague Dr Shani D’Cruze is a thoughtful assessment of the dissertation/thesis market for editorial freelancers. It reviews the reasons for the growth of the sector, the possibilities and potential problems for the proofreader and copy-editor (including ethical issues), and the guidance offered by education institutions and professional societies.
As someone who not so long ago supervised and examined student dissertations and theses, and now offers to proofread and copy-edit them, I was interested when I found the online discussion board for the Society of Editors and Proofreaders preoccupied by the professional and ethical issues that student clients raise for SfEP members.
Although especially perfectionist students and those with dyslexia or similar conditions do seek professional editing and proofreading advice, the main constituency for proofreaders’ or copy-editors’ services are students for whom English is not their first language. (The issues are also somewhat different for students with dyslexia, for whom external proofreading can come under the rubric of “special needs” and, on a case-by-case basis, these days may be negotiated through their university.)
The growth of the international student community
The number of international students in UK universities has been rising for some time. The global dominance of English (and American English) as the language for political, administrative and academic communication – and the status of a degree from an English (or American) university – ensures that despite recent increased difficulties in obtaining visas for some students, the growing opportunities to earn a UK university qualification by studying outside the country, and concerns in some quarters that increasing student numbers will put undue pressure on resources and the student experience overall will deteriorate, international student numbers in the UK will go on rising, helped, not least, by a recent initiative from the prime minister (John Morgan, Times Higher Education, 19 January 2012; Eliza Anyangwe, Guardian, 16 April 2012; Claire Rodwell and Kyle Thetford, Cherwell, 3 May 2012).
In 2010–11, 428,225 students in UK universities (17 per cent) came from outside the EU. International students comprised 70 per cent of full-time taught postgraduates and 48 per cent of full-time research postgraduates (IKCISA). In 2012 there are 67,000 students from China and 39,000 from India studying in the UK, and numbers from these countries are set to increase (Sean Coghlan, BBC News, 13 March 2012).
The reasons for the universities’ readiness to recruit more overseas students are not hard to find. It has comparatively little to do with altruistic impulses towards the globalization of knowledge: these days UK universities can’t afford to be altruistic.
It’s about hard cash. UK higher education has been struggling for some years against declining levels of government funding, and increasingly the funding they receive is allocated according to assessments of “excellence” in research and teaching. Today, while fee levels for UK and EU students are capped, universities can charge other students as much as the market will stand (Graeme Paton and Heidi Blake, Telegraph, 12 February 2010).
The challenges facing international students
Earning an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in your second (or third) language has its challenges, and so does providing a supportive learning environment for non-native English speakers.
Universities want to be able to award good, academically sound degrees to the international students that they recruit: academic staff and departments are for the most part committed to providing a good learning experience for their students and the university as a whole is driven by the imperatives of maintaining “quality” and “excellence”.
Nevertheless, as professional proofreaders and editors can testify, it’s no easy matter to write in fluent academic English when it’s your second language, even for someone who can handle everyday communication with ease.
As an academic editor (and as a copy-editor) I’ve worked on many occasions with accomplished scholars, both postgraduate and faculty, whose research skills and conceptualization were far better than mine, but whose written academic English needed extensive editing to make it effective (sometimes to make it intelligible).
The challenges facing proofreaders and copy-editors
Judging from discussions on the SfEP discussion board, professional proofreaders and copy-editors have mixed views about working on students’ theses and dissertations. Some stick to the position that if it's meant to be the student's unaided work, and that is very strictly interpreted, there isn't any role for a professional proofreader.
This has been argued to be particularly the case in arts subjects where the quality of expression is so closely integrated into the creation of meaning and argument. A bad experience with a non-paying or overly demanding student customer can also deter professionals.
The PhD student expecting to find a proofreader for their 80,000-word thesis a week before their final deadline is not that uncommon. Others from the SfEP find that student clients tend to question every change or correction because of their lack of familiarity with academic conventions.
Above all, students are perhaps the category of clients who are least willing to pay the rates recommended for this kind of work. Nevertheless there are now growing numbers of freelancers in search of work, and this together with the increasing number of overseas students in UK universities means that more of this kind of work will be commissioned, done and (hopefully) paid for.
There are also, of course, a growing number of agencies offering to “improve” students’ work. Some of the services offered far exceed what universities or indeed most professional proofreaders and copy-editors would see as legitimate intervention in work due to be submitted for assessment.
Free-market rules apply to the offer and purchase of such services, of course, and it’s up to the universities to police any consequent academic dishonesty. The problems are probably greater in undergraduate work, where students are being assessed on a series of smaller assignments.
Does proofreading improve grades?
From my own past experience as a marker or examiner I would be surprised to find that proofreading (as understood by professional colleagues) made a worrying difference to a student's grade. It might lift a miserable piece of work to what a colleague of mine used to refer to as a “good fail”, or maybe add a couple of percentage points to the grade for a sound or good assignment, but that's about it.
Where students submit purchased off-the-peg essays or assignments re-written by commercial agencies, the abrupt change in the writing style usually makes the dishonesty obvious. My experience lies in the Humanities and Social Sciences; I can't speak for scientists.
For (longer) postgraduate dissertations and theses it’s even more unlikely that extensive academic dishonesty through re-writing by a commercial agencies (or anybody else) would go undetected. Supervisors see samples of students’ writing over the whole period of the project and guide them in the development of the research and the structuring of the written dissertation. Any sudden last-minute change in fluency or “voice” would be highly suspicious.
A postgraduate thesis or dissertation depends upon extended and detailed research. Examiners are assessing that project as a whole, including its design, originality, how it contributes to academic knowledge in its field, its findings and how they are evaluated and discussed.
The standard of academic writing and presentation is important, but a conscientious and diligent research project will be evident to examiners despite awkward, ungrammatical prose in the final dissertation.
At the same time, the work of a proofreader in cleaning up (not re-writing) the thesis, done professionally and responsibly, is as much a service to the examiners and to future readers as to the student, whose hard work in planning, researching and shaping the argument is then better revealed in the written work. The crucial issue is transparency and clear guidelines.
The US and Australian approaches
In the USA the use of outside services seems more generally accepted, providing the extent of the intervention is disclosed. In Australia, a formal and extensive code of practice, the Australian Standards for Editing Practice (ASEP) (see Guidelines for Editing Research Theses download) is embedded in universities’ degree regulations.
Across the country therefore, students, supervisors, examiners and universities know what to expect and what level and what kind of intervention is acceptable. For example, the regulations for Macquarie University [3.1.2], referring to the levels of editing specified in the ASEP, state that supervisors should be aware that a student is using a professional editor, and that the intervention should be restricted to the detail of the text in language and illustration (Standard D) and completeness and consistency (Standard E). Any advice on structure (Standard C) should be provided only as exemplars (HDR Guide).
ASEP require that editing or proofreading should be carried out on hard copy so that students themselves have to consider each editorial suggestion and make the required change themselves. They also specify that the editor’s name and a statement of the service provided should be appended to the thesis.
The UK approach
In the UK, universities each set their own approach to the proofreading and copy-editing of students’ work. A quick straw poll of my academic colleagues and contacts showed that most had little knowing involvement with externally proofread theses. It can’t necessarily be assumed, however, that students were not availing themselves of outside services, only that they weren’t consulting with their academic supervisors about doing so.
Indeed, without clear guidelines and fully resourced practice much of the work of helping students improve their written English falls to academic supervisors, whose workloads have increased exponentially over the last few years. In the good old days, when academic routine generally included time for coffee and the broadsheets in the Senior Common Room, written English coaching was generally handled informally and could be passed down the line to keen junior (not infrequently female) members of staff.
It is rare these days that even the most dedicated supervisor has the time to work closely with a student, instructing on the written presentation of research. Dedicated study skills departments have filled some of this gap. Many universities provide high-quality ESL training that aims to equip students with the English language skills they need, but comparatively few have clear written policies or guidelines about proofreading.
A member of staff in one ESL department (in a university with no written guidelines or policy in this area) described to me how regularly they fend off requests from students to proofread or edit their work.
It’s not uncommon for UK PhD regulations to contain a statement such as this: “The thesis shall include a statement declaring the work to be the candidate’s own and acknowledging any assistance received” (University of Westminster Regulations, 14.3) but such provisions are generally aimed at situations such as in the sciences where a student’s PhD research forms part of a larger collaborative project.
Often general guidelines to students seek to remind them of the importance of error checking in the final stages of thesis preparation; for example, this from Reading University: “… leave yourself enough time to have a final read through of your dissertation to pick up any lingering mistakes or typos”.
It all sounds so easy. Or this from Birkbeck, apparently drafted with input from exasperated PhD examiners: “You must make every effort to correct errors before submission. It is not the task of examiners to act as editors and/or proof-readers [sic] of a thesis.”
Essentially, of course, a PhD thesis or Master’s dissertation is a form of examination and as such should be the student’s own work. At University College London the plagiarism regulations state that “Recourse to the services of … outside word-processing agencies which offer correction/improvement of English is strictly forbidden” (also quoted in M. Macdonald, EM, Jan/Feb 2008).
However, the situation varies, even within different colleges of London University. Currently (2012) the LSE issues guidance on students’ use of professional proofreading services, which is explicit and brief (see LSE). The key section states that a third-party external editor or proofreader cannot be used to develop ideas and arguments, to trim an over-long thesis to regulation length, to help with referencing or correct information, or to translate the thesis into English. What is permissible is for a proofreader to correct spelling and punctuation, to ensure correct grammar and syntax, to clarify the writing, for example by shortening sentences and changing to the active voice, to format footnotes and endnotes, and to make headings and page numbers consistent.
These guidelines do permit online proofreading using tracked changes, but require that the student be responsible for reviewing and accepting changes.
In the present situation, this sort of effort to render transparent the proofreading/editorial help received seems the most enlightened for all parties: students seeking to produce the best thesis they can, universities seeking to maintain academic quality and a good student experience, and proofreaders and editors seeking to earn a crust but also to maintain professional integrity and standards.
Current advice and moving forward ...
Professional organizations can also play a key role. The SfEP, for example, has a comprehensive published booklet (Proofreading Theses and Dissertations), aimed principally at members but more widely available. Excellent articles have also appeared in the society’s magazine, Editing Matters.
More, however, could be done, even though this would mean more work for the organization and its officers. Universities have departments that focus on study and research skills and also on supporting international students.
Making direct contact with such departments and encouraging them to have a direct link from their own web pages to a page on the SfEP website specifically addressed to dissertation/thesis writers would (a) promote the advantages to students in using the editing services of SfEP members and (b) provide useful information for students, supervisors and examiners about what SfEP proofreaders/editors expect from student authors.
Ultimately, spreading the kind of good practice adopted at LSE or working towards the kind of editing standards adopted in Australia would seem the most intelligent and practical way to manage this growing trend.
My thanks are due to Patrick McMahon, Judith Rowbotham, Mandy MacDonald, Louise Harnby, and to the collective wisdom of SfEP members on their discussion board.
Copyright Shani D’Cruze 2012
About Shani: After more than fifteen years as an academic historian in UK universities, Shani D'Cruze moved to Crete where she combines olive-farming with research and writing, editing, and copy-editing. View her LinkedIn profile.
A note from Louise: I’m very pleased to welcome my colleague Kate Haigh to the Parlour. Kate is an editor and proofreader based in the UK who works extensively with non-publisher clients. Kate’s agreed to talk to me about one particular segment of her portfolio, the business client.
Louise Harnby: Welcome, Kate. And thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us. My own client base is very much based in the publishing house sector, so I’m keen to get a sense of how things differ when working with a business client. First of all, can you tell us what kinds of material your clients ask you to work on?
Kate Haigh: Hi and thanks for inviting me to participate in this and give my views on working for business clients. I would like to start by highlighting that my experiences may differ significantly from other people’s as the scope of non-publishing work is so broad; different people may have different USPs or ways of approaching these clients. On the whole, though, I tend to work on three main types of material – websites, reports and marketing material. Different clients tend to use me for different services, i.e. I have one client for whom I solely proofread the website, whereas another regularly sends me reports but no web or advertising work. It means the work is very varied, which in my opinion is a bonus, and also means I learn a lot of random things.
LH: And are you editing, proofreading, writing, or a little bit of all three? And how do you think the job differs from work with other types of client (publishers, self-publishing authors or students for example)? Are the requirements different and, following on from this, does your method/approach vary accordingly?
KH: To be honest, it depends on the client. Some of them aren’t native speakers/writers so I edit quite heavily and am given free rein, while others just want me to tidy up documents and ensure consistency. The lines are more blurred between proofreading and copy-editing, especially as almost all of the work is done on-screen – it doesn’t tend to have pagination issues or print deadlines in the same way that book or magazine work may have. I don’t have the same level of querying as I do for self-publishers or students; most business material is black and white with limited grey areas. I may query something occasionally but it’s usually a content issue; the client handles the query internally so I don’t deal with it any further.
LH: When proofreading for academic publishers, I’m given a very clear brief and a house style guide. Is it different with corporate clients? Is this something you have to work with them to establish when you first make contact? In other words, is the brief a more dynamic affair that evolves as the work proceeds or are the clients clear from the outset what they want from you?
KH: Again, it can depend on the client. Some have style guides in place, others ask me to create one and then implement it, while others are only concerned with consistency in the one document I am working on at that time. On the whole, the brief is clear, though, and I know the level of input I can make, though I guess that comes with experience for each client. One client recently sent a document that was theoretically in the final print stage so we agreed I would only make essential amendments; in future I will see the work earlier and they want me to make stylistic changes and copy-edit the document as I see fit.
I think overall the issue is more fluid, and definitely more so than with academic and non-fiction publishing, where there tend to be so many rules. For clients who are new to using a proofreader or editor, I can play a big role in shaping my job and their expectations, which I personally enjoy. However, if you’re keen to be told what to do or have a set function to follow, this type of work may not be quite so suitable.
LH: The editorial function is an established part of the process in most traditional publishing houses. Unless a press is a small, independent publisher that has to handle all of its editorial work in-house (for economic reasons), it’s not difficult to persuade them that our services are of value. I've tended to assume this isn’t the case in the business market. Do you actively market yourself to this type of client, do they come to you? Regarding either option, what are your most effective marketing outlets?
KH: I find that businesses with active marketing departments are often already aware of the benefits of proofreading but no longer have capacity in-house (horrible to admit but the recession served me well there), so they come looking or just need a tiny nudge to make them aware of my existence. I got totally lucky with my first and most repeat client – I met a PA at a training event about writing copy for the web; she ended up giving me a lift home, took my card and passed it to the marketing manager. The rest, as they say, is history. Other companies looked for me, and thanks to my website, the SfEP directory and other online presence, I appear to be relatively easy to find.
The best marketing I have actively done has been local networking. Some businesses have then found out about proofreading and asked me to work with them as they never even knew such people existed, while word-of-mouth from those events has served me brilliantly. It takes time to reap rewards with networking, at least it did for me, but has been invaluable in the longer term. It’s the face-to-face element that works, and the rapport you build over regular breakfast meetings at some ungodly hour. On the whole, I don’t think the clients I met at networks would have responded to a cold call/email but over time they get to know you and trust you – that’s what leads to the work.
I also think that for business clients, a website is essential, not just for enabling people to find you but also for adding integrity and a professional look. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who claim to be proofreaders when perhaps they’re not qualified for the job, so having a website with information about you, testimonials, contact details, etc. really helps a client to relate. I guess that links in with the face-to-face element of networking.
LH: Do you mind talking to us about the rates of pay? I’ve blogged about the different rates of pay within the publisher sector, and how the suggested minimum rates (as defined by the SfEP) aren’t always in line with the reality of the market place. Would you say that the corporate sector is more lucrative for editorial freelancers?
KH: For business clients, my rates are almost never lower than the SfEP guidelines so in itself that possibly makes it more lucrative than the publishing industry. I think awareness of other proofreaders is lower in the corporate world and this works in my favour. When a company has decided they have the funds and the need for a proofreader, I think they value that service highly. Also, they get used to working with you, your style, and the way you interact, so they’re less worried about squeezing every penny compared with publishers, or at least that’s my perception.
I have one or two clients who pay quite a bit more due to the heavy editing/re-writing element, or other functions, but on the whole I charge in line with the SfEP’s rates and no company has ever quibbled.
LH: If you had one piece of advice to impart about working for business clients, Kate, what would it be?
KH: Ultimately, I think people need to make a positive choice to work in business proofreading rather than seeing it as a fall-back option. I like the commercial world and what it encompasses, and find working on the associated content interesting. If, however, people are doing it because they can't get work in their chosen field, it could be very boring. This would make the job less fulfilling and the resulting loss of focus could lead to an increased error rate. Sorry if this sounds dogmatic, but it's something I feel very strongly about; being able to really focus on your clients’ materials and their particular needs is important, whichever area you’re working in.
LH: Thanks very much, Kate. I’ve found this hugely informative and I’m sure that many “newbies” and seasoned professionals working in other areas will learn a lot from your experience.
About Kate Haigh
Kate is a professional proofreader and owner of Kateproof. Feel free to follow her on Twitter at @Kateproof or link with her via LinkedIn.
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