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.
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 fiction line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in supporting self-publishing authors, particularly crime writers. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and an Author Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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.
What is a packager?
Let’s begin with a definition of a packager. A packager is a company that provides complete production services – including editorial – to a publisher. When a manuscript needs copyediting or proofreading, it is the packager who hires and pays the freelancer, even though the manuscript is for a well-known publisher. Today, most publishers use packagers for at least some of their titles, and some publishers use them for all (or nearly all) of their titles.
What that means is that there is another layer of person/company that needs to get paid for the service that the freelancer will provide. Which means that the freelancer gets less money than if she worked directly for the publisher. This leads to the question: how can working for a packager be profitable for the freelancer?
Packagers and the bidding process
The problem with packager pay for freelancers is how the packager bids for the work from the publisher. Most editors and proofreaders (editors from now on) calculate what to charge by calculating the number of pages in the project. Even if we charge by the hour, this is still the base method of calculation because we calculate that we can edit x pages an hour and thus need to charge $y per hour. Many editors fail to understand that the page is the single most important item determining what to charge.
(This raises another issue: Too many editors do not charge realistically. They do not know what their required effective hourly rate is, which is a number that every freelancer needs to know regardless of whether they charge by the page, the hour, the character, the project, or something else. To learn how to calculate your required effective hourly rate and what to charge, see my 5-part series Smarter editing for profit.
If you ask freelancers, they often will say that packagers pay too low and they are difficult to make profitable. I agree that for the level of skill and the service they want, packagers pay too low, but it is still possible to make a profit (depending on what your required effective hourly rate is). The key is smarter editing.
I have been a professional freelance editor for 31 years. I am pleased to say that I make an excellent living from editing. My secret is that I am always seeking ways to make my editing more accurate, faster, and more consistent, with the goal of high-quality one-pass editing. I look for those tasks that are “mechanical” and look for ways to do those tasks more efficiently, usually by using macros. I am always amazed, and simultaneously amused, by the number of colleagues who do not exploit the power of macros.
Consider journal names. Most of the books I edit use PubMed style for journal names (e.g., New England Journal of Medicine becomes N Engl J Med). I also edit chapters with long reference lists, with several hundred not being unusual. By using a macro (the Journals macro in EditTools) I can edit the journal names in minutes. That isn’t all that needs to be done to the references, but it is one less otherwise-time-consuming task that is done.
Efficient editing is not limited to macros. Other steps can be taken as well. For example, studies show that using two monitors can increase productivity by as much as 50%. Add a third monitor and gain up to another 15%. That is a lot of improvement.
Using the correct resources for a particular job can also increase productivity. I usually, for example, prefer to use print reference material rather than online searches. Why? Because with print I can see other possibilities that I may not have thought of, such as surrounding words or names of species. That may not be true for all things or for everyone, but finding what works best for you is key.
The point is that the key to financially successful editing is to find ways to speed up the editing process without losing any accuracy. If you take such steps, even editing for packagers can be profitable.
Parameter setting for profit
Louise Harnby recently wrote for my An American Editor blog a two-part article, The Proofreader’s Corner: How Lucrative Are Your Editorial Clients Really? Keeping an Eye on Creeping Costs. It illustrates why it is important to make sure that everyone agrees on what a job will entail. It also illustrates why something as simple as an exchange of emails that describe a job’s parameters can be the difference between profit and no profit.
The point is that it is more efficient, and thus can lead to greater profit, to have an advance agreement over the terms of an editing assignment. The greater point is that each of these items of productivity and efficiency add up, and if you have enough of them in your stable of editing tools, even low-paying clients can be profitable.
The Rule of Three
One more thing: I use the Rule of Three when evaluating a client. Basically, that means I do not decide whether a client is a profit maker or a profit loser until I have done at least three jobs for that client. Sometimes your efficiencies need time to become efficiencies. (For a detailed explanation of my Rule of Three, see The Business of Editing: The Rule of Three at An American Editor.)
A final reminder ...
The final word of caution is this: No client can be profitable if the pay is less than your required effective hourly rate. That is the minimum you must earn. Keep that in mind when evaluating a client and you will be profitable.
Richard Adin, An American Editor
Richard Adin is a professional editor with 31 years of experience. His editorial practice, Freelance Editorial Services, is focused on nonfiction books. Adin is the writer and owner of the acclaimed An American Editor blog and author of The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper (ISBN: 978-1-4341-0369-7). He is also a frequent speaker at conferences on editing and editing more efficiently. Finally, Adin is the creator of EditTools, a set of Microsoft Word macros designed to increase editorial efficiency and productivity.
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 on the Parlour! 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 fiction copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in helping self-publishing writers prepare their novels for market.
She is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors, and runs online courses from within the Craft Your Editorial Fingerprint series. She is also an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Louise loves books, coffee and craft gin, though not always in that order.
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, take a look at Louise’s Writing Library and access her latest self-publishing resources, all of which are free and available instantly.
How catastrophic would it be if a swearword found its way into your document? Certain words have a way of leaping out of the page and causing offence, even if they are there by accident – a mistyping of ‘ship’, for example, or of ‘mucking about’.
Here is a simple way to remove swearwords from the dictionaries used by Word, Outlook and other Office applications, so that the spell checker will alert you to any nasties that find their way in.
Source: Can I remove a word from Office’s speller dictionary? (MSDN Blogs)
Sam Hartburn is a self-confessed maths geek, who proofreads and edits material about mathematics and other related subjects, from early years through to adult education and academic research. The formats she has worked on include books, journals, online lessons and video tutorials. Find out more at Quick Black Fox Proofreading or connect on LinkedIn.
Using macros can speed up the work of a proofreader or an editor, and can help to improve the consistency of the work you do. They offer speed and attention to detail (they don’t get bored and miss things), and you provide the intelligence: you understand the meaning and significance of the text, while to the computer it’s all just data.
Over the past few years, I’ve written macros to speed up a few aspects of the spelling process, but recently I’ve looked more radically at the whole spelling process. We all use spellcheckers, but let’s analyse what actually happens.
Word’s piecemeal spellcheck macro
When you press F7, Word runs its own spellcheck macro* but it’s a piecemeal checker – it only works on one word at a time – so you decide whether each word really is an error and, if so, what to do with it. Let’s spell out all the functions, noting who is doing what (forgive me if you think I’m labouring this, but looking at the detail will help us to find a better way):
So, rather than tackling only one word at a time, can we automate it? Clearly we can’t just accept Word’s suggested alternative for every single word, so let me suggest how we can do some aspects automatically, while bringing in your own intelligence and decision-making.
First, the new SpellingToolkit macro can spellcheck all the words at one go (while you go for a cup of tea!), and it will generate an alphabetic list of all the different ‘errors’. If you want to, you can even give it a ‘user dictionary’, but with SpellingToolkit this is just another Word file, which makes it easy to add, subtract, copy and paste words.
You can now look at this ‘error’ list and decide that (a) some of the words are definitely errors (i.e. every occurrence needs changing), (b) some are definitely not spelling errors – ignore them, but (c) with some words it will depend on the context.
Once you’ve made those decisions, the macro can implement them through the whole document: words (a) are all changed by global F&R, words (b) are all highlighted while words (c) are just ignored.
And if you want to, you can copy and paste these ignored words into your ‘user dictionary’ to speed things up on later jobs – that’s entirely up to you.
The macro also looks at your list of ‘words to be corrected’, and uses Word’s spellchecker to provide a suggested alternative for each one. But again, you can check each one in case it has suggested the wrong word.
So, you end up with a list words to be altered (with their alternatives) plus other words to be highlighted. The macro can then do a global F&R to implement the changes and do the highlighting, or you could use a global F&R macro such as FRedit, or MegaReplacer from Jack Lyon.
The SpellingToolkit suite (with full instructions) is available on my website, as part of my free macro book, and also in the "Latest" file – which has just the macros that have recently been developed (or improved).
If you try out this new system, do feed back to me. Does it do what you want? Could it have extra features? Could it work more smoothly? I’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment below.
* If you don’t believe that Word itself uses macros, press Alt-F11 (Option-F11 on a Mac) and then run the spellcheck with F7, and you’ll see at the top of the Visual Basic window that it says ‘Running’.
About Paul Beverley
Paul has over 25 years’ experience as a technical author, publisher, proofreader and editor, and has the highest available editing qualification: LCGI (editing skills). Paul is passionate about macros and has used his programming ability to complement his writing and editing skills. Through his series of Macro Chat posts, he aims to share his knowledge and open up a dialogue about the benefits of macros to anyone working with words. Comments and questions are always welcome so please do join the discussion. No question is too basic!
Visit his business website at Archive Publications, and access his free book at Macros for Writers and Editors.
Think about the things you buy in daily life. Consider, for example, a television. You go to the store and see televisions by Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, and AxE. The first three are all names with which you are familiar; the last is an unknown. Would you buy the AxE brand television? Most people would not.
The reason is branding. People like to buy products that make them feel comfortable, that have a reputation for delivering quality, that are known. It is no different with editorial services.
Branding works a bit differently when talking about services, but branding, for which reputation is an easy substitute, is equally important in services as it is in hard goods. We hire lawyers and doctors and plumbers and carpenters based on their reputation (brand).
The question is how does an editor create a brand?
It isn’t difficult to create a brand if you focus on what you want your brand to mean. If, for example, you want it to mean “always on time”, then you need to always adhere to the agreed upon schedule, even if it means giving up your long-planned holiday because the work is going slower than expected.
The first thing to do is to outline what you want your brand to say about you. The second thing is to realize that positive branding does not occur overnight – it can take years to establish a positive brand. Note that I mention positive branding. Unfortunately, there is also negative branding, and a negative brand can be established in minutes.
Positive branding says these are all good things about you. For example, my brand says that I am able to undertake very large, complex editing projects and deliver high-quality professional editing according to the agreed-upon schedule and with a detailed style sheet. These are all positive attributes.
Negative branding says these are all bad things about you. For example, rarely delivers on time; quality is mediocre at best; not very professional; complains constantly; fails to follow instructions; doesn’t ask questions about assignments and so doesn’t complete assignments as expected.
It is because negative branding is quick to be gotten and hard to lose that companies spend a lot of time, effort, and money to create positive branding and to rectify negatives. Unfortunately, with service providers, unlike hard-good providers, rehabilitating a negative brand is very difficult, often impossible.
Again, you begin by identifying what you want your brand to say about you. Once you have listed what you want said, you need to outline how to create that positive branding. If extra effort is required to meet a deadline, make that effort and casually let the client know you made that effort. On occasion, I have written to a client with a question and causally mentioned that I planned to work on the project over the weekend to ensure that the schedule is met.
When you determine what your brand should be, the one thing I would shy away from is the idea that you are reasonably priced. I don’t want clients to associate me with a low price; I want clients to associate me with high-quality on-time work that also happens to be fairly priced. But I do not want price to dominate because once it does then that will be the key to your brand – pricing – when the key should be the types and quality of services provided.
Promoting your brand is not difficult. At every opportunity, you need to mention it by emphasizing those traits that you are making a part of your brand. But when creating your brand, be cautious. Don’t include something because you think it is expected but you will have difficulty delivering. I know one editor, for example, who believes that it is important that he emphasize on-time delivery, something he rarely accomplishes. He wonders why his branding isn’t more effective.
For ideas on how to promote your brand, just look around you. Consider, for example, how my blog, An American Editor, works to promote my brand or how this blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour, works to promote Louise Harnby’s brand. The promotion is ongoing but without being “in your face”. Think about how a response to someone’s question can be designed to promote your brand.
Most importantly, remember that poor reputation and poor branding can be costly in a business environment.
Copyright 2014 Richard H. Adin
Richard Adin, An American Editor, is the owner of Freelance Editorial Services, which for more than 30 years has provided high-quality editorial services to publishers worldwide. In addition, he is the author of The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper (available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other bookstores), which focuses on the business aspects of editing, as well as of EditTools, a collection of macros designed to make editing more profitable.
Dear valued proofreaders and editors, Louise has presented a wide range of business and editing advice here on the Proofreader's Parlour. Some of it I refer to regularly. What I hope to contribute is an understanding of what developmental editors (macro level/substantive changes) do in the school market. That means the textbooks, handouts, exams and such that kids get day to day at school.
First, I hope this insight will be interesting. Second, I hope it will alert everyone down the line in the publishing process to the intricate web of concerns that are woven into today's textbooks. Grab a cuppa and listen in.
Most of the resources I work on are for the K–12 school market in Canada and the USA. That covers all schooling from the first days until university or college. Chemistry and physics topics make up most of my work; math comes after that. Though I am a certified copy-editor, substantive editing is so time consuming that it makes up the majority of my practice. That explains my POV.
When material finally makes it to the copy-editor (and afterward, to the proofreader) it has been massaged to an astounding extent. Less of the author’s voice is left in these materials than in most others. The editors have taken into account:
That's off the top of my head. There's definitely more.
Any changes I suggest had better move the manuscript closer to those goals.
Reading level is high on my list of concerns when copy-editing. Because I edit tough subjects, it's important that the language not get in the way of the learning. Often we are aiming one full grade level below the audience. I have edited chemistry to the cadence of Green Eggs and Ham, and physics to the rhythm of Sherlock Holmes. Occasionally, another copy editor will “smooth” the language of a piece, raising the reading level eight years above the education level of the audience. There was a reason it was written that way.
The style sheet in school products reflects current trends in education, propriety, and avoiding any possible sense of moral, ethical, or legal infraction. I have removed the image of a sculptor because he was working on a backside, I've struggled with wording about erecting structures, and I've flipped the terms Aboriginal with Indigenous because none of the consultants seemed to agree.
I have also taken indigo out of the rainbow, and mourned the loss of Pluto’s planet designation along with the rest of my generation.
Learning new things is one of the best perks of editing. Working on school materials brings a broad wealth of information to your screen. And the author’s enthusiasm? You can sense that from the sheer number of exclamation marks.
My husband once admonished me: “If you’d worked that hard in school, you’d have done much better.” Well, they weren't paying me to go to school, and they didn't give me six solid months to work on one text. A lot has changed.
Adrienne Montgomerie is a freelance editor in Canada where she lives on the shore of one of the largest lakes in the world, Lake Ontario, and enjoys time outdoors in all weather. She is a phonics app developer and a certified copy editor who works mostly on instructional material. You can learn editing tricks from her in online courses and in a weekly column at Copyediting.com. You can also listen to her posts on the Right Angels and Polo Bears podcast.
Note from Louise: I've been charmed in the past two weeks – three special guests sharing their wisdom on the Parlour! This time it's my colleague Sophie Playle. Sophie and I met at our SfEP local-group meeting in Norwich.
She's a talented writer (more on that in a future post) and has a very specialist skill set within her service portfolio – manuscript critiquing. I asked Sophie if she'd tell us a bit more about it, and she kindly obliged ...
How I ended up offering a critiquing service
My journey to where I am now – a freelance writer and editor who offers critiquing (or manuscript appraisal) as one of my services – evolved partly organically, and partly with focused purpose.
It's a familiar story, but I have always wanted to write. At school, I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life in terms of career, but I did know that I loved the escapism of books and the swooning elegance of language. While choosing a university degree, I followed my passion and went for the English Literature with Creative Writing BA offered by the University of East Anglia.
I loved the writing element of the course more than anything, and from my first to my final year, I went through a steep learning curve.
Our final-year creative writing group consisted of a small core of writers. We would write short stories and submit them for our fellow group members to tear apart. It was invigorating. We all knew the value of criticism, and both craved and respected the feedback we received, eager to improve our craft. It was a tough but safe bubble.
In one of my private tutorials, my tutor complimented me on the quality of my feedback to other students (our feedback contributed 10% to our grade, but I was more motivated by the thought of genuinely helping my fellow writers). She asked if I had ever considered a career as an editor. Getting this endorsement certainly gave me encouragement, and nudged me towards my future career.
Leaving university, I began to apply for jobs at publishing houses for entry-level editorial assistant jobs. I also began a long distance-learning course in copy-editing. Eventually, I landed a full-time role at a large educational publisher.
Before long, however, I was craving fiction and creativity and writing again. So I decided to take the plunge and do an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London – while still keeping in touch with my publishing house for the odd freelance project.
The focus of my MA was novel writing, and each of us on the course was plunged into the task. As with my final-year undergraduate class, each week we would critique each other's work – from sentence-level, language and grammar issues to the developing bigger issues such as point-of-view and voice as our novels progressed.
Much of our course was also focused on reading and analysing critical theory related to literature and the craft of novel writing, so that our constructive criticism had a sound academic foundation. I absolutely loved the experience, and my writing and editing skills developed dramatically in the challenging environment.
During my time working in publishing, I also set up my own literary publication called Inkspill Magazine. I decided to host a short-story competition, where all entries received a free critique, to test my critiquing skills in the real world. I received lots of positive feedback and, upon completing my MA, I decided to offer critiquing as a freelance service to writers.
My academic foundation and publishing experience (and the various tests I set myself) provided me with the confidence to offer a critiquing service.
So, what is a manuscript critique?
A critique sounds a bit daunting, akin to the word criticise – but it's not a harsh deconstruction. Essentially, a critique looks at the "big picture" elements of a manuscript (plot, pace, characters, voice, etc.) and offers a constructive analysis, with the aim of showing where the writing succeeds and where it could be improved, to better inform the writer's next step.
It is often called a Manuscript Appraisal, but I favour the term "Manuscript Critique" because what I provide goes beyond an assessment, also offering possible ways to address the issues I might highlight.
The critique is offered as a report, which is usually between 5 and15 pages (though I have written reports of up to 25 pages) depending on how many issues I feel need to be addressed, or depending on the length of the manuscript. It doesn't include any sentence-based editing, though if there is a recurring issue throughout the manuscript, I would flag it up within the report as a general area to look at.
Who are the clients?
Most of my critiquing clients are writers on a journey to self-publication, or writers who want to increase their chances of representation for traditional publication. Generally, a critiquing client will be interested in making sure the core of their novel is as good as it can be, and looking for external professional confirmation and/or suggestions for development.
This type of assessment comes before any copy-editing or proofreading, and can be used to test ideas (with a sample of the novel plus a synopsis) or strengthen complete novels when the writer feels there is more work to be done but is not sure how to go about it.
The benefits of a manuscript critique
A critiquing service is not needed for everyone, but it can help a writer gain a professional outside perspective, help them develop their manuscript, provide confirmation of its quality, and help inform the next step of their project – in the worst-case scenario, that might be to put the novel in a drawer and chalk it up to valuable experience, and in the best-case scenario, it might be to immediately send the project out to agents and publishers! (Often, it will be the steps to take for a further draft.)
Often, beta readers (friends, colleagues, etc.) can give a writer a useful "big picture" perspective on their writing, but a professional critique goes much deeper – with the added benefit of an honest appraisal (something that might be skewed by kindness from friends!).
Writers are often told that they need a thick skin – and that certainly comes in useful with a critique. Though I attempt to critique with the utmost sensitivity and respect, I feel the biggest injustice to a writer would be to offer them hollow advice and empty praise. Sometimes the assessment can be a bit of a shock to the writer, so it is important to remember that the critique is designed to improve the project, and not to negatively criticise the writer as an individual.
It's often very difficult to accept that there might be some fundamental issues with a manuscript that will need substantive work, so when a writer sends their novel to be critiqued, I would say: be prepared for some more hard work ahead!
Copyright 2013 Sophie Playle
Sophie Playle offers writing, editing and critiquing services to independent writers. Find out more: Liminal Pages.
Independent author T.P. Archie recently published A Guide to First Contact, a post-apocalyptic novel set in 2060.
His search for editorial assistance initially led him to me. However, after some discussion about what was needed, we agreed that he’d benefit from an developmental and line editor, not a proofreader.
I pointed him in the right direction and he hired one of my SfEP colleagues to work on the manuscript.
Now he’s been kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to the Parlour about this experience, and his independent publishing journey more broadly.
Parlour: First of all, congratulations on publishing your book! Can you give us a short synopsis of the novel and tell us how the idea for Guide came about?
T.P. Archie: Hi. Thanks for inviting me in. Guide alternates between the present day and a post-apocalyptic Earth.
On the edge of the solar system, Star Beings plan the next phase of their work. New life. An animite must be hurled onto the third planet. The impact will scatter organic compounds throughout Earth’s biosphere. But there’s a problem: the animite goes missing.
A hundred thousand years later, it’s the 21st century. A space mission to a near-earth object makes an amazing biological discovery which is brought back to Earth. This American secret is trumped when France announces contact with creatures from outer space. Then disaster strikes. Technologies in key industries begin to fail. The West collapses …
It’s now 2060. Most cities are long abandoned. All that remains of the once-mighty United States is the Petits États, centred on New England. Outside of there, civilisation survives in Enclaves, relying on the confederation of Sioux Nations for protection. For forty years a genetic plague has ravaged humanity. It began just after Earth was contacted by aliens. A new and mysterious power – the mandat culturel – controls access to advanced technologies.
Triste, hopeless with girls, but good with guns, is a bounty hunter. He has all the latest ordnance. His contracts pay well but are dangerous. They take him to the ruined cities; he spends a lot of time in the former urban area of New York.
His current mission is to reconnoitre a long lost laboratory. He encounters a ramshackle band of opportunists whom he sends packing. In doing so, he meets Shoe. They find the lab. It has secrets linking it to the collapse of Western civilisation. Shoe is running from her family. She has other secrets.
In the dead shell of Manhattan lurks a secret pensitela base. Their alien biology protects them from the brutal savagery of the place. They have their own reasons for being there.
From the edges of the solar system, a Star Being monitors Earth. It has a plan – and Triste meeting Shoe isn’t accidental. His troubles have just begun. Eventually he is faced by the hard truths behind the fall of the West.
At its most basic, Guide is a series of interlinked narratives that combine to reveal how the apocalypse comes about. Other readings are possible. One of my objectives was to explore different kinds of first contact.
However, Guide didn’t start like that. It began as a test of Novel Writing Software – yes, there’s a product really called that! I planned to write three chapters, which I thought would be sufficient for my purpose.
So out it churned, an endless stream of 'hero takes on hordes from hell'. At about 8,000 words I took stock. I already knew it wasn’t intellectually satisfying yet I had found a writing rhythm. It occurred to me that while I was in my stride, I should experiment.
Why didn’t I add something with a bit of interest? I had a few characters kicking around in my head. "Everyone has a novel in them," I told myself; all I needed was a theme to link them together. In they went; and the violence was trimmed. That was it; I was hooked.
I wrote and added themes. There’s gender reversal – the story won’t work properly without it – and Darwin’s theory of evolution (these two are linked). Then the never-ending Anglo-French rivalry; followed by a drip feed of classical Greek philosophy. Each theme had a purpose. Why? I want SF that makes sense, including the cosmogony. Depicting aliens, for example, requires some attention to how they might see the universe.
In retrospect, I realise I’d grown away from SF/Fantasy; little of what was available appealed to me. I was sitting around waiting for someone to write the stuff I wanted, which wasn’t happening.
Parlour: Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and how you started writing?
T.P. Archie: I qualified as an accountant in 1990. My mother was born to a family of Estonian farmers and my father began life as a cobbler. I grew up in a one-parent family.
Most of my early life was lived in Stoneyholme, a deprived part of Burnley. My mother rented from a block of terraced houses. There was plenty self-inflicted misery, but it was rarely safe to observe.
As the son of an immigrant with a German accent, it was my duty to avoid the occasional beatings that were due to me. Grammar school education informed me that the oppressive reality of working-class life stopped at the edge of the estate.
I began reading SF/Fantasy in my teens. This was later complemented by an interest in classical philosophy and history. Once I started writing, I found a great deal to say.
Parlour: Who are your biggest influences (from a literary point of view)?
T.P. Archie: My formative years were very much influenced by genre authors, e.g. Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. I continue to be impressed by Tolkien’s myth building and the universe of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Outside the genre I have found Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Pasternak, George Eliot and Doris Lessing to my taste. I am also partial to Plato and the works of Idries Shah. My writing is also influenced by the work of Orson Welles. (Oh, okay – he didn’t really write :) )
By the way, I’m ridiculously pleased with my Philip K. Dick collection, tatty Ace editions and all. Dick is best known for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which inspired Bladerunner. Dick didn't need to spell out apocalypse, yet his settings work. His characters think a great mix of the mundane and the profound. Seemingly omnipotent creatures are driven by biology or freely admit their fallibility, as Glimmung does in Galactic Pot-Healer. Many of his works are laced with dark humour and are worth a reread.
Parlour: Like many other authors around the world, you've decided to go down the independent publishing route. Self-publishing requires the wearing of many hats in addition to the writing. What have been the upsides and the downsides of this decision?
T.P. Archie: Upsides: you control everything. Downsides: you control everything. Okay, that was tongue-in-cheek.
The main benefit is that you are in control over the pace of your development. Once you have a deal, you are locked into it. As an indie author, I don’t feel the constraint of writing to fit genre style/house style. Ask the right questions at author events and the strictures of formulaic writing become clear. I've read widely in my chosen genre, including many of its standards. There are many themes to explore/treat differently.
The most significant drawback was in the narrative – devising a practical approach to self-editing. While shaping ideas, I’d revisit text. If words didn’t come, I’d use "next best", i.e. placeholder terms, and work it until it was there or thereabouts. This resulted in intermittent problem areas. Sometimes I attempted to clean these up but this was a chore.
I’d ask of myself, "What comes through in the narrative? Does it need reshaping?" I was too close to answer that, and a long way from feedback. I moved on. In my heart of hearts, I knew there were better approaches but I lacked the comfort of funds, so investigation wasn't an option. Besides, it was still a hobby.
Did I plan to go DIY? I saw no choice. New authors produce first novels. First novels are best kept locked away in a drawer, hoping no one reads them; or (in my case) kept for practice.
Many new authors go on to sell a few copies to friends and families. It’s a hobby and a fine one. You learn how to put a PDF together; you Photoshop-up a half-way reasonable cover – and if that doesn't appeal there’s plenty of stock imagery out there.
Then you get to make friends with local book-sellers and libraries. Soon your edition has gone from sales of 10 units to say 100 and you can get stuck into decisions such as how many to print (economic order quantity for the business inclined). That’s a long road which begins with up front financial commitment, a dry garage and benign family arrangements.
So, back to me – before I spent, how ready was I? How much confidence had I in my book? What was acceptable quality? What did I do to reach that bar?
These are big, big questions which each author must decide for themselves. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a high proportion of self-published product doesn't make the grade. The follow on question to this, kind of asks itself: Am I self-critical enough? The only way is feedback.
Parlour: So tell us about that. What was your experience regarding feedback?
T.P. Archie: Completing that first draft gave me a tremendous burst of energy. There was so much more to write. What did I do? Jump the gun or wait? There were troublesome areas but I was too close to it to deal properly with them myself. I needed feedback and had none. So I seeded drafts to those who thought they might like to read it through, and I waited.
I hoped that this would put me in a better position to know if it was worth writing more. It was only hobby time, but I might as well get it right. I waited for feedback ... and waited. It was a long time coming. That time was frustrating, to put it mildly.
While I waited, I reacquainted myself with the rudiments of grammar and punctuation. I joined writing groups and reluctantly practised short stories. There’s nothing like reading out loud for finding flaws in your work.
Finally I got feedback from my draft. It became clear that I needed to reshape Guide. I realised there was still a long way to go and I had to up my game. The stage points of that journey weren't yet clear. I continue to practise short stories, which, contrary to my initial opinion, gave significant benefit.
Parlour: How long did it take to get Guide from the conception stage to the marketplace? I ask because some of the conversations I have with more inexperienced indie writers leave me worrying that they might not be being realistic about the length of time the process takes.
T.P. Archie: A quick answer is four years. Could I have done it quicker? No.
Longer answer: At the time, I thought I would be finished with the process in six months. Having said that, it’s worth pointing out that my original objective wasn't writing per se. In fact, it didn't matter if I couldn't write; my objective was to test a software package. It was only when I’d "done enough" for that initial purpose (my target was 8k words) that I realised I had something to say. Basically, I was a committed hobbyist who got sucked in.
My early view changed from "let’s do 8k words" to "I bet I can finish this off in 60k words". I gave myself three months to get to first draft (it took three and a half) and a further three to tidy things up.
This latter goal was totally unrealistic – it assumed a level of proficiency in editing my work that I didn't possess. The three months for first draft misled me because the effort, although considerable, was compacted together. Much longer was needed to give Guide a finished gloss.
How long would I allow now? It would make me uncomfortable to imagine I could do it in less than a year. At the moment I’d calculate the minimum time as:
Why all that extra time? There’s little chance that Guide could have been ready earlier than it was. I wanted to get things right. While I waited for feedback there were things I could do that wouldn't be a waste of time. First things first: a test of commitment, learn the ropes. I learned Lulu (POD/ Print on Demand), dabbled with Photoshop, put work into devising blurb, table of contents, copyright, permission to quote.
The drip of feedback began. I got stuck into editing. The more I did, the bigger Guide got. It started at 60k words and grew to 80k. Then I received good-quality feedback. A complete rethink was required. I needed to convince myself that there was mileage in the next step.
Plusses and minuses two years after first draft would have read:
With hindsight, I now know that my product wasn't ready; I needed to develop as an author. What wasn't clear was how much time was required to become half-way competent.
Much of the past four years has been spent looking for feedback and dealing with it. I've a better idea how much work goes into publishing. Using other expertise means you spend more time in your comfort zone. I've spent a lot of time in business, enough to know that I've little interest in activity that adds little value. Successful authors should prioritise and focus on what they’re good at: writing.
During this time the stages I went through were:
Parlour: Some independent authors take a completely do-it-yourself approach to the self-publishing process – including the cover design, editing and proofreading. Why did you decide to hire an editorial professional, how did you go about the task, and what qualities were you looking for?
T.P. Archie: By 2012 I’d done all I could, Guide could progress further. I rested it. A change of circumstances made that extra investment possible. Browsing on Goodreads gave me the idea that it needed other eyes, and that proofreading might be worth looking into.
I ranked proofreaders; you came top. Hiring an editor was a leap in the dark. I’d little idea of how to proceed so I went with gut instinct. Stephen Cashmore became Guide’s editor.
Parlour: What were the biggest benefits of hiring an editor?
T.P. Archie: It smoothed out my style and helped me understand what worked and what didn't. This has given me confidence in my other projects.
Parlour: Any challenges?
T.P. Archie: Definitely. The main one was to disengage thoroughly from the story design in mind – i.e. what I meant to convey – and actually deal with the editorial comment. I flip-flopped on some changes; in others, what I thought I needed to do didn't work. At times I needed to check my original intent; fortunately, my notes plus backups were up to the task. I found the editing process to be very helpful.
Parlour: If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
T.P. Archie: Interesting question.
As far as the actual writing goes, things fell out as they did. The main characters had been in my head for some years. I felt little urge to write something I could get over the counter; the piece was always going to become complex. The decisions affecting the outcome couldn't be envisaged until after first draft.
Some were merely opportunities, which if not pressed would have held me back – e.g. I pushed for the local writing group to reform, even though I knew little of writing and less of those who would come to make up that group.
Selecting an editor was an act of faith but there was a real choice. I wasn't entirely sure how things would progress. Different outcomes were possible – but given a rewind, I’d be unlikely to do anything differently.
I still have more to learn.
Parlour: Many of this blog’s readers are editors and proofreaders. Is there any advice you’d like to offer to us about dealing with independent authors so that we can do our very best for you? I currently publish a set of Guidelines for New Authors, and, like many other editorial professionals, I'm keen to ensure I offer indie writers the information that’s most helpful to them. So what should we be doing and what might we do better?
T.P. Archie: Many potential clients don’t have a literary background and so won’t understand the value of your services. I think it’s worth taking me as an example ...
In 2012, Guide had progressed as far as I could take it, yet I was certain that its story was worth extra effort to get it into the marketplace. However, what to do wasn't clear. I had little idea what could be achieved and I put it on one side.
I came across the SfEP by accident, while following up a comment made on Goodreads by a US proofreading business. I ran a web search, ranked the results, emailed the top ranking proofreader who helped me find an editor. Encountering you (and hence the SfEP) wasn't a guaranteed outcome. It takes courage for first time indie author to let a professional look at his work.
The edit began. Issues were identified and ranked into major/moderate/minor. Changes were proposed. I prioritised my effort. Nearly all the minor changes were accepted without question. Suggestions for other issues were helpful and I followed many of them.
Guide had several types of problem. The story structure required a rethink, the style was inconsistent, and the text was too fragmented. In many places, the pace of the plot was let down by the narrative.
The benefits from the edit were significant. I put Guide into chronological order. Style excesses and inconsistencies were smoothed out. Fragmented text was joined up. I dealt with problems on a case-by-case basis.
Some solutions came from my editor; dialogue translation was provided for the one chapter where Russian is spoken. This added authenticity without detracting from the pace. In another case a solution evolved in the to and fro of the edit – a lengthy dialogue was demoted to the appendices, where it actually plays better.
The overall result is more readable.
The edit kept me in my comfort zone and solved a major headache; knowing how much to edit, and when to stop, was now solved. I had a better idea of what worked and what didn't. In addition I got an idea of where the boundaries of taste lay (where Guide strays near the edge, it is for story purposes). The whole thing has given me a great deal of confidence; I now know thorny problem areas can be identified and improved.
I'm certain my editor would agree with me if I said I was slow on the uptake. For this, and other reasons, what editors and proofreaders do needs to be out there and spelt out. A book on this sounds a good idea. [Editorial freelancers] are more likely to find value from those who are already seeking out their services.
Parlour: Having now achieved that final goal of getting your novel to market, what advice would you give to any indie author who’s considering self-publishing?
T.P. Archie: Self-publishing requires an author to get a lot of things right. Some of these are tasks with steep learning curves that can take an author away from his/her comfort zone. New authors need to make judgements on where their expertise stops.
Where the processes are mechanical (e.g. POD formatting) it is clear if you have this right or not. As far as the actual writing goes, you are too close to your work to make that call. Any indie author seriously considering first-time publication would do well to consider putting it through copy-editing. I plan to do this with my next novel.
In the case of Guide some kind of final check was needed. Proofreading seemed a good idea; it actually needed copy-editing. That process was well worthwhile.
Parlour: What does the future hold? Do you have plans for future novels, and, if so, will they be in the science fiction genre?
T.P. Archie: I have four genre pieces in progress. In 2012, I dared to look forward, on the heroic assumption that Guide could be finished; I asked myself “What I would like to write next?” The ideas I liked were:
I've made starts on each of these.
There are also a number of themes coming out of Guide that I would find interesting to follow up. Before that happens I’ll do a little marketing. I'm on Goodreads, where I'm planning a "giveaway". I also want to tell local newspapers about Guide. There’s a press release, some bookstores to visit and, in between, I might read a few extracts onto YouTube. I promised to inform Octagon Press, agents to the written works of Idries Shah, as well as the Department of Public Affairs at Mayo Clinics ...
Parlour: Thank you so much, T.P. I think independent authors and editors/proofreaders can all learn a huge amount from the experiences you've so generously shared!
To buy A Guide to First Contact, visit Amazon or Lulu:
You can contact T.P. Archie as follows:
Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
If you're an author, you might like to visit Louise’s Writing Library to access my latest self-publishing resources, all of which are free and available instantly.
In this latest guest post, my colleague Anthony Haynes lays down ten handy tips that are worth any freelancer, editorial or otherwise, considering as part of their ongoing business planning.
Anthony's article arrived in my inbox the very same day I'd spent several hours attempting to eradicate a rather unpleasant virus from my computer. Point 7 therefore struck a particular chord with me, and served as a good reminder that regular assessment of one's IT security is a must. That aside, there's plenty more here for the editorial professional to think about.
Anthony Haynes is Creative Director of The Professional and Higher Partnership Ltd.
You’re busy. You just finished editing one typescript and there’s another one waiting for you. You need to keep on top of your invoicing and chase late payments. There’s a networking event to attend and leads from the last one to follow up. Plus a website to update and a tax return to file.
All of which means it’s easy to avoid continuity management.
That phrase, “continuity management”, isn’t one that sets the pulse racing. It enjoys none of the heroic status accorded to starting or growing an enterprise. “The great thing about Steve Jobs was his continuity management” is not something you’re used to hearing. Continuity management sounds pretty damned dull.
But if you’ve invested huge amounts of energy and other resources in developing your freelance business, it makes sense to do what you can to mitigate risks and plan for contingencies to ensure the business survives.
Here, in no particular order, are some steps you can take.
Finally, once you have a continuity plan, you can in effect use it as a sales tool: the more your clients can see you have planned to ensure continuity, the more professional and reliable you appear.
Copyright 2013 Anthony Haynes
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Spotlight: Building a Freelance Proofreading Business – The Usefulness of Objectives (by Mary McCauley)
A note from Louise: In this latest guest Spotlight, I'm delighted to welcome my colleague Mary McCauley, who shares some super new-business-building tips through the lens of objective-setting.
I strongly believe that solid business planning is the key to success with any start-up business and Mary's insights demonstrate how forward thinking and a strategic approach really do generate results.
Mary is an outstanding example of an editorial freelancer who did her research and then applied what she'd learned carefully and methodically. She's now in a position to share her knowledge, thereby helping newer entrants to the business navigate what can seem to be a rather daunting field in the early days. I'm sure other readers will join me in congratulating her on moving from newbie to mentor in less than a year.
For the past 15 years I have worked in research and business administration. The catalyst for my career change to freelance proofreading was my experience as a co-author and co-editor of our local parish history (published as a community fundraising project). Setting up a business of any kind can be a little overwhelming so, using my project management experience, I found the best way to approach it was to take things one step at a time, i.e. to set myself business objectives.
I broke these objectives down into individual tasks and gave them time frames for completion. Some objectives were met (by necessity) from the start, others were ongoing and fitted in around my client work, and some will continue to feature – in various forms – in future years’ objectives. I love to-do lists and as I come to the end of 2012 it is deeply satisfying to reflect on the objectives I have achieved to date.
In order to progress from voluntary, amateur proofreader and editor to a professional freelance proofreader I set myself the following objectives:
1. Obtain an industry-recognised qualification in proofreading: For someone outside of the publishing industry in Ireland, this was a daunting first step. I knew that it was important to gain a recognized professional qualification, not only in order for potential clients to take me seriously but also for my own knowledge and confidence. I wanted to ensure that I was investing my training budget wisely. There were numerous proofreading courses on offer: a key decision was to choose the right one for me.
I contacted the Irish Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders & Indexers (AFEPI). They advised that Publishing Ireland (the Irish Book Publishers’ Association) recognize the courses run by the Publishing Training Centre in London. Their Basic Proofreading by Distance Learning course was invaluable and very challenging; successfully completing it has given me the confidence to pursue a career in freelance proofreading.
2. Register a business name: In Ireland, if you operate a business under any name other than your own true name, you must register it with the Companies Registration Office (CRO), so this objective was next on my list. It was a relatively easy process with only a small fee involved. If for some reason you are not happy with the name you register then you can always change it later (for another small fee!). Once I received my Certificate of Registration it all became very real.
Under this objective, I also made contact with the Office of the Revenue Commissioners (Ireland) regarding my tax and VAT status.
3. Set up an office space and office systems: My business background came to the fore for this objective. Whilst it involved the more tedious side of freelancing, it was vital in terms of sending out a clear message, both to myself and my nearest and dearest, that I was taking my business seriously. So I set up a home office space; prepared account spreadsheets to track my income and expenditure; created client spreadsheets to track my client work; determined my charges; designed quotations, invoices, receipts and statements; drafted my terms and conditions; and established a back-up procedure for my files.
For security reasons, I did not want to use our personal computer so I invested in a new laptop with Microsoft Office software; over the past few months I have built up my suite of editing tools. The Proofreader’s Parlour has been a huge help with this objective. For example, I now use PDF-XChange for my PDF files, which is an excellent package, and Louise’s PDF proofreading stamps have been a fantastic addition. Her Link of the Week feature has pointed the way towards many excellent editing resources and software.
One of the pleasures of setting up my office has been the creation of my reference library. Good reference books have been essential tools for my work to date and they were a key component of my set-up costs.
4. Set up a Facebook business page: One of the crucial pieces of advice I read regarding setting up a freelance business was to tell everyone and anyone that will listen about your services. (Lest anyone doubt the value of that advice, let me assure you that I discovered it very early on: a neighbour approached me to say that she had just learned that I was a proofreader and had she known this she would have contracted me to work on her self-published book rather than the non-local proofreader she did hire.)
So, one of the first ways I went about spreading the word was to set up a public business Facebook page, link to it from my personal page and invite all my friends to ‘Like’ it. It was quick, free and very easy to set up, and it was a great starting point for building an online presence. It has allowed me, using my business name, to publicize my services and to interact with other business pages such as publishers, local libraries and local businesses.
5. Obtain business cards and posters: This was a somewhat time-consuming but a relatively easy and cost-effective objective to achieve as I designed my own business cards and posters using an online service. I then personally delivered them to all my local libraries to let the library staff know about my services and my involvement with the local history book (of which the county library had purchased several copies). One simple library visit and chat led to a librarian referring a local author to me – one who subsequently contracted my services. I also displayed posters in local and national colleges and universities. I always carry some business cards with me – you never know when you will need them.
Tip – do not print too many business cards to begin with as your details may change. For example, I did not have a website address when I ordered my first batch of cards. Subsequent batches will list this information.
6. Start networking online: Working from home in rural Ireland, with no previous in-house experience or existing contacts within the publishing industry, was initially quite isolating. The Publishing Training Centre, SfEP and Proofreader’s Parlour websites were a great resource in the early days and I spent my spare time reading their articles and blogs. This interaction helped to keep me going during the difficult early days and to feel a part of the freelance community.
My most fruitful online networking to date has been on LinkedIn. I joined shortly after registering my business name and connected with friends and past colleagues. Almost immediately, a former colleague contacted me seeking my proofreading services for her online business. She had learned of my services solely through LinkedIn and has been a regular client ever since.
7. Start networking locally: Whilst I had little publishing-industry experience, my 15 years’ administrative and research work involved a lot of business writing, editing and proofreading. The contacts I made from my previous jobs have been of great benefit when seeking commercial proofreading work. The first network I joined was my local Wexford County Enterprise Board network and subsequently the Women in Business Network. I recently attended one of their local business conferences and found it thoroughly inspiring. More productively, I met the managing editor of a local independent publisher for the first time and this led to a subsequent longer and informative meeting.
Slowly, but surely, I am starting to network with other local editorial professionals. I have yet to discover an equivalent of the SfEP local group network in the Republic of Ireland and the opportunity to meet fellow Irish freelancers has been limited so far (one for my 2013 objectives list!). Earlier this year, I declined a substantive-editing project that I felt was outside the remit of my experience; it would have been nice to have known a trusted local colleague to whom I could have referred the author.
8. Start contacting publishers: I have been extremely lucky in that I have had a steady stream of work since I established my business. Most of this work has come from – or through – previous contacts. I have successfully contacted some small independent publishers and secured some work in this manner, with hopefully more work to come in 2013.
9. Join professional bodies: One of my primary aims was to establish and run my business in the most professional manner possible and for me this included becoming a member of the relevant professional bodies. Early on, I became an Associate of the SfEP. More recently, I joined their Associates Available list and, though I am an Ireland-based proofreader, I remain hopeful that I will source some work via the list.
I recently became a full Member of the Irish AFEPI (Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders & Indexers). This involved completing an application form detailing the past five projects I had worked on, and the checking of my client references. It took time and effort to complete but it was very worthwhile and the interaction with my Irish colleagues was a pleasant bonus.
10. Design and publish my own website: The achievement of this objective has been one of the highlights of my first year in formal business. My budget did not stretch to having one designed professionally, yet all the advice indicated the importance of having a website. Thanks, once again, to some excellent advice on the Proofreader’s Parlour, I decided to design the website myself using Weebly. It was so much easier than I had expected – building the site was nothing compared to having to write the content! Overall, it was a great learning experience.
Tip – proofreaders need proofreaders, too. Have someone else proofread your content before you publish it.
11. Do not give up! In June, I handed in my notice at my regularly paid "day job" to concentrate fully on proofreading. I have never once regretted that decision though, like all freelancers, I have had periods of no paid work. In the early days, I had a couple of very promising leads for proofreading work that never came to fruition and this really tested my resolve and self-belief. I used these quiet periods to concentrate on the mechanics of my business, e.g. building my website, networking and reading industry-related material on all aspects of proofreading and freelancing – things not covered in a training-course manual.
It is a great privilege in life to work at what you love and I absolutely love what I do. It is the sheer thrill of working with words that drives me to keep going and not give up. One of the most heartening experiences of changing careers has been the support from established freelance proofreaders (the competition – or "frenemies"). I am still amazed at the kindness and help I have received from Louise and others. This goodwill has sustained me and helped me to keep going despite the challenges and knock-backs of the early stages.
12. Accept invitation to write a guest blog: As I may have mentioned (!), I have found the information and advice contained in Louise’s Proofreader’s Parlour to be invaluable during this past year of establishing my business. It was an honour when she invited me to write a guest blog for the Parlour and it is with great pleasure that I now put a tick against my final Business Objective of 2012!
Here’s hoping that 2013 will be a successful year for all of us lucky enough to be working as editorial freelancers.
Copyright 2012 Mary McCauley
About Mary McCauley: Mary is a professional freelance proofreader and editor living in Co Wexford in the southeast of Ireland. Having graduated with an Honours Degree in Marketing she spent many years working for public bodies such as Aer Rianta at Dublin Airport and Wexford County Council. Her voluntary role as co-editor and co-author of the local parish history Oylegate-Glenbrien: A Look Back in Time inspired her career change and she hasn't looked back since.
Contact Mary through her website Mary McCauley Proofreading or via LinkedIn or Facebook (joining Twitter did not make it into her 2012 objectives).
A note from Louise: If you are thinking about setting up your own proofreading or editing business, you might like to read my guide for new starters. I was so impressed with Mary's approach to setting up her business that I invited her to be a start-up case study in the book. Additionally, you'll learn about why a business plan is necessary; the different aspects of editorial freelancing; training; client focus; getting experience; financial assessment; promotion; networking; and tools for the job. More details here.
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 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.
Spotlight: Preventing Plagiarism – Online Technologies to Track Down Plagiarized Content (by Julie J Carr)
A note from Louise: Digital technologies are key anti-plagiarism tools in today’s online educational environment, argues Julie J Carr. In this latest Spotlight, my guest explores some of the options that students can use to help them identify possible breaches of copyright prior to submitting their work …
As long as there has been writing there has been plagiarism. Today, writing requires just as much effort as it always has; plagiarism, on the other hand, is easier than ever before. If a writer wanted to cheat prior to the existence of the internet they had to go to a library (or other physical resource) to find works appropriate to their subject, then copy that content and present it as their own.
These days, the internet allows the cheater to find thousands of relevant sources in just seconds and copy whole (or parts of) term papers, essays, articles and other published works.
The situation is worsened by the complexities and perceptions of intellectual property laws and rights – electronic resources are easily reproducible, in a way that their material counterparts are not, so students who would have thought twice about copying from a book or published article might not approach online works with the same degree of respect.
Plagiarism is a not a criminal offence, but is considered to be morally reprehensible. For those accused plagiarism, the consequences can be serious. Perpetrators can be found guilty of copyright infringement, and penalties for university students can include suspension or expulsion, even if the plagiarism was unintended.
Educators are keen to ensure their students are aware of the seriousness of the offence and that they don’t exploit the online accessibility of others’ original works. The owners of that content – bloggers, website owners, academic researchers, artists and authors – also want to protect their work from theft.
There are online technologies and algorithms that help students to track down possible abuses in their written work, thus preventing plagiarism and the consequential damage. These are one part of the process a student needs to go through to ensure they are correctly citing the primary and secondary sources they have used in their work. Here are a few of the most popular:
Copyscape is a web-based plagiarism detection solution that provides both a free and paid premium service. Unfortunately, the free version only allows the user to check their writing if it’s published on the internet, by way of inputting a url – there is no facility for uploading files.
More advanced options are available for registered paying users. This premium service provides better plagiarism detection and includes the ability to upload files, carry out copy–paste checks, and implement batch searches. There are of course drawbacks.
Copyscape only compares the content you are checking for plagiarism with available online content currently indexed in Google’s database. It does not check for any printed sources. Nevertheless, it still is a useful online tool for detecting plagiarism and one of the most popular.
PlagTracker is an online plagiarism checker that offers a broader free service – it allows the user to upload a paper, or copy and paste the content that needs to be checked into a text box.
After the user has clicked on Start Checking, the software will automatically compare the text with all web pages and over 20 million academic papers from different university databases to generate a complete plagiarism report. The report shows the percentage of the work that has been plagiarized and the original sources of each plagiarized phrase and sentence.
The free service limits the amount of text that can be checked in one go to 5000 words. Users with premium accounts can upload whole Word documents and text files and exclude lists of references from their papers to get more accurate results.
One of the limitations of this software’s free service is that it can highlight as problematic certain widely used phrases. Users therefore need to check their sources carefully and make sure the rest of the content is original, that the argument being presented is in the user’s own words, or that the necessary citations are provided. In this way users can be confident that their writing is unique.
Google Alerts is a great free tool that can also be used by bloggers, freelance writers and website owners interested in protecting their own works by tracking down plagiarized content. Users can set up an alert for their name or byline; if these are copied and posted onto another website, Google will notify them.
An alert can also be set up for sentences of up to 32 words, alerting the user if their content has been stolen. When using Google Alerts it is important to use quotation marks at the beginning and the end of the sentence to avoid spam and results unrelated to the search terms.
Since Google Alerts is Google tool, the searches are limited to Google’s own database. This is a great monitoring tool for detecting plagiarism on the internet, but doesn't provide a way of enabling students to monitor whether their own work will be an infringement prior to submission.
It’s worth reiterating that the consequences of even unintended plagiarism can be serious. Technologies such as the above are a useful adjunct to the writing process but students should first and foremost always take responsibility for citing the sources they have used in their work according to their institution’s guidelines.
Copyright 2012 Julie J Carr
Julie J Carr is a freelance writer and representative of the new plagiarism checker PlagTracker. She is keen on new technologies, adores flavoured coffee and books, and likes to visit places where she can enjoy the latter two at the same time. You can mail her at email@example.com.
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.
Client Talk features interviews with the those who commission editorial freelancers – the people on whom many of us depend to make our businesses viable. These experienced publishing professionals discuss the production process from their side of the desk – the joys and challenges of their work, new technologies and procedures, and their work with editorial freelance staff.
In this latest interview, I talk to Melanie Birdsall, Production Editor Manager at California-based education publisher Corwin.
Louise Harnby: Thanks for agreeing to talk to the Parlour, Melanie. First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the publishing business?
Melanie Birdsall: Like many people, I was drawn to publishing by my love of reading and language. I proofread for a catalog company before coming to Corwin; at the time, I wasn't exactly sure what book production entailed, but the prospect of working for a publisher was too enticing to resist. I’m thankful every day for my good fortune; I love book production and working with a team of people, from copy-editors to print buyers, invested in creating a successful product. About five years ago I became a manager for the production editors (PEs) working exclusively on Corwin content.
LH: Could you tell our readers a little about the company you work for? What kinds of material do you publish and in which subject areas do you specialize?
MB: Corwin is an imprint of SAGE, a leading social sciences publisher based in Thousand Oaks, California, in the United States. Corwin publishes professional development books and other resources for educators, from the classroom teacher to the district superintendent, on a wide range of topics, including classroom management, system-wide reform, response to intervention programs, and technology. You can visit the Corwin website to learn more.
LH: Editorial freelancers who've never worked in publishing are sometimes unaware of the procedures and pressures of that in-house staff face. What are the main challenges you have to deal with in your role?
MB: It’s a fast-paced job that requires creative thinking and problem solving. A production editor handles about 12 to 18 projects at any given time, all in different stages – a colleague of mine used to refer to it as “keeping all the plates spinning”. We rely on our team of freelancers to help us keep our projects on track as much as possible, especially when we encounter the unexpected – a timely sales opportunity, for instance, might require the PE to accelerate a production schedule; an author may require an extended deadline because of a personal emergency; or a permission/legal issue could delay production by weeks. Managing multiple projects can be challenging, but it keeps our skills sharp and our jobs exciting – some days may be stressful, but they’re certainly never dull.
LH: What about new developments in the industry (e.g. digital production)? What changes in the publishing world are having the biggest impact on you and do you see these as exciting opportunities or are they sometimes obstacles?
MB: We’re experiencing the next evolution of publishing, and it’s exciting but, at the same time, requires us to think differently about our products and how we produce them. Right now our focus is on converting our print titles to electronic platforms. When I started in publishing in the early 2000s, ebooks were just a thought; today we have a publishing technologies department devoted to online products and electronic conversions. The way we deliver content is changing – in a few years, we may be producing products that aren't truly books or journals but something in between – but the content itself, and the quality standards in its production, remain consistent.
LH: What advice would you give to “newbies” looking to develop an editorial production career within a publishing house? Is there a best place to look for entry-level positions?
MB: I recommend visiting publishers’ websites for job postings and also Publisher’s Weekly. Look for anything production- or product management-related. Emphasize your organizational and problem-solving skills, eye for detail, author care, and willingness to be flexible and creative in your approach to project management.
LH: So, when you’re hiring a new editorial freelancer what are the primary qualities you’re looking for and how do you assess these? Do you expect them to have a particular training background, previous experience, or knowledge of the subject areas in which you work? Are there are other factors that are important to you – references and testimonials perhaps, or a specific educational background?
MB: We ask prospective freelance copy-editors to complete a test in which a Word document is edited electronically. Proofreaders are asked to complete a similar exercise, marking their changes in a PDF. We don’t have a test for indexers, but we ask them to submit samples of their work for review.
All applications are reviewed by our editorial freelance resource manager, who determines whether the candidate’s background and skills are a good match for the type of books we publish. We seek experienced editors who are familiar with the guidelines for handling text, citations, and references as detailed in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. A thorough knowledge of The Chicago Manual of Style is also necessary.
LH: How to you find your editorial freelancers? Or do they find you?
MB: We receive many inquiries about freelance work, often through referrals or through the Freelancing for SAGE Books section on our website, which provides more information about our expectations and application process. Though we currently have sufficient resources, we always invite freelancers to apply, as our needs can change.
LH: You’ve told us about the challenges and pressures of being part of the in-house production team. What’s the nicest thing about your job – the element you enjoy the most?
MB: Production is an incredibly satisfying job. After what has been a long, long process of research, writing, and development for our authors, we want make the last steps of the publishing experience as positive and fulfilling as possible.
We may be managing projects, but behind every book is a person. I mentioned previously that Corwin books are targeted to educators. Our authors are their own audience – these are often full-time professionals who are writing on the side, many for the first time. They need a PE who can work with their busy schedules, who understands that time becomes precious with the start of each school year, and who doesn’t mind explaining the differences between copy-editing and proofreading. One of my direct reports once received a letter from an author who said she couldn’t have done it [the production process] without him – moreover, she added, she wouldn’t have wanted to. No matter how the industry changes, our authors, and their satisfaction with the publishing process, will always be the key to our success. We want them to be just as proud of their Corwin books as we are.
LH: From your particular business point of view, what are the most exciting developments taking place in publishing at the moment?
MB: Digital publishing is probably having the most impact on our processes and workflow as we consider how to best evolve with the changing needs of the industry. Our skill set won’t become obsolete, but it will require adaptation. For example, Corwin books are very art-heavy, and most feature several forms and boxed text elements. Today’s PE wrestles with the challenges of print page layout; tomorrow’s PE will consider how these elements convert to an electronic platform, where page breaks may be arbitrary. A book full of photographs may not generate the revenue required to invest in four-color printing – but what if we could have a full-color ebook at no or minimal extra cost? It’s an exciting time for publishing as we close the gap between those processes that are familiar and traditional and those that may revolutionize the industry.
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.
A note from Louise: “[U]se the power of targeted email and website domain naming to make your customers choose you first” is the advice from Paul Icke, editorial colleague, and SfEP member.
Here are some super marketing ideas from Paul to get you thinking. Paul has deliberately chosen to leave the technical aspects for another day. However, if you have any questions you can either use the comments section or contact Paul direct at firstname.lastname@example.org. See what he’s done with his email address? Read on to find out why …
Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me. Really? Picture this: You are project managing for a University Press on a prestige series of international law titles. It’s Friday afternoon before a Bank Holiday weekend. Your lead proofreader has just called in and is now indisposed for the foreseeable future and the first title is about to come back from typesetting.
You still have a mountain of work to clear off your desk before you go home and so, seasoned professional that you are, you turn to the SfEP online directory for a replacement. Despite a fairly specialized keyword search list, you get three good hits. All three give return email addresses:
There is a four-figure budget for each title with guaranteed repeat work but the clock is ticking. Which of the three do you feel like trying first?
Your directory entry, business card or advert is the key you hope will unlock income, and I hope that you will find some inspiration here to use the power of targeted email and website domain naming to make your customers choose you first.
Take yourself seriously
I came into editing and proofreading along a non-publishing trajectory. I had a long career in IT and founded a successful consultancy in Marketing and Service Delivery before changing tack to deal with a family crisis, so I am older; I do gravitas, and I want you to feel that I am dedicated to doing your work and that your proofs will not come back covered in ketchup and crayon drawings.
Having rubbed shoulders on IT projects with consulting heavyweights such as Logica and PwC, I know what makes them tick, and having "Big_Daddy56@hotmail.com" on your business card just doesn’t cut the mustard.
In fact, many large organizations have deployed intelligent firewalls that will assign a high percentage probability to emails emanating from popular domains such as "gmail" or "hotmail" as potential spam, so your winning tender submission might not even get through to your customer contact.
The domain name, the bit after the "@" or the "www", says more about you than you think. When we want to buy on the internet, we look for clues in the domain names of unfamiliar companies – I visit www.nakedwines.com for claret, not car insurance.
It has taken eye-watering marketing budgets for Apple and Orange to re-define those words in the popular consciousness as entities other than fruit, money I will assume you don’t have, so the message is clear – choose an email address/domain name combination that tells your target customer exactly what you want them to know.
The sales pitch
As freelancers we are selling services to human beings who are buying, and there is a considerable body of work dealing with how we make decisions when we buy. I am very interested in the role of the unconscious mind in these decisions (I have an "ology", as Maureen Lipman would say). Three things stand out from this work for me:
Get your domain name here
Domain names are as cheap as chips and even easier to acquire. There are rules on domain name registration, but suffice to say a ".co.uk" suffix (or a ".com" for you Walter Mitty types out there, like me, or if you have global clientele; ".eu" works well within Europe, too) will suit a UK-based freelancer working with UK organizations and cost as little as £4.99 a year. The choice of suffix really boils down to where you operate, so an overseas reader of this blog would register a domain in their home country, i.e. ".fr" for France, ".de" in Germany, etc.
You get your domain name through an easily found registrar. For reasons I can’t remember, I am with a registrar called FreeParking, with whom I am unconnected and I use them here simply as illustration.
Try out some domain names you like, bearing in mind what I have said above. You can type them into the box at the top of the FreeParking page and see if they are available. If so, you will simply need to pay and register your domain(s) under your sole trader, company or partnership name as owner of the domain(s) you buy.
There is a dizzying array of things you can do with your new domain and I don’t want to veer into the technical at this stage, so do explore; I will gladly answer any questions you may have. Basically, my registrar will host web pages for me. I can then have a free mail account with storage and 11 aliases (different bits before the "@") or I can have up to ten free aliases on the domain name that forward mail to any other email address(es) of mine. I can transfer-in domains I already own from somewhere else or I can forward traffic to them – the list of possibilities is as large as your imagination.
You can be up and running with a new marketing identity in minutes and for less than a fiver. Have several. Re-invent yourself periodically if things slow down, you feel stale or if you acquire new skills, interests or qualifications.
Practical tip: Create a totally different email alias, or even a different domain, to use for non-work activities such as social networking and internet shopping. When this address inevitably attracts too many phishing scams or Facebook exhortations, just delete the alias and make a new one. This will avoid risk to your client addresses.
I believe that a well thought-out email and domain name strategy makes you look smart and professional, so just remember to say what you do on the tin.
* "ProProofReading.co.uk" was available at time of writing and could be yours for £4.99 per year.
If you would like to know more about unconscious purchasing influences, a fascinating place to start is Philip Graves’ book, Consumerology: The Market Research Myth, the Truth about Consumer Behaviour and the Psychology of Shopping, Nicholas Brealey Publishing (London, 2010).
For background reading on domain naming, visit InterNIC or the UK’s central registry at Nominet.
Copyright Paul Icke 2012
A note from Louise: Editorial freelance directories are key promotion tools for many proofreaders and editors. My colleague Nick Jones recently took ownership of the online directory Find A Proofreader and he’s kindly agreed to talk to the Proofreader’s Parlour about this exciting expansion of his business.
Louise Harnby: Before we talk about the Find A Proofreader directory, Nick, can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your editorial business, Full Proof?
Nick Jones: I set up Full Proof in 2004 whilst working as an in-house proofreader for Yell. I advertised on free sites like Gumtree and the brilliant FreeIndex directory, and concentrated on getting as many positive reviews from clients as I could. By the time Yell made me redundant in 2010, Full Proof was established well enough for me to go it alone. I now have a team of freelancers to whom I outsource work and we cater for students, businesses, authors and job seekers in the UK and beyond. We’ve got a US English version of the site now so we’re hoping to get more customers across the pond. I attribute much of Full Proof’s popularity to FreeIndex, which ranks us as the top proofreading company in the UK based on our positive reviews.
LH: How did the deal with Find A Proofreader come about?
NJ: I had a listing in the directory already, and in May this year the owner sent all advertisers an email saying she was selling the website and wanted to give us each an opportunity to buy it. Being rather impulsive by nature, I submitted an offer within a couple of hours. I don’t know how many other offers she received in the end – maybe none – but I got the site and I’m pleased about that as it’s doing really well. Mind you, it’s taken up more of my time than I anticipated! When the site became available my wife had just gone on maternity leave and I thought it would be a fun thing for her to get involved with. As it’s turned out, I’ve ended up doing most of the work. It’s my baby. So now I have two babies to look after.
LH: So who’s the site for, broadly speaking, from the point of view of both the freelancers who advertise and the people looking for assistance? I see that despite the name of the directory, the category listings go much further.
NJ: That’s right – as well as proofreaders and copy-editors, the directory also includes other categories such as indexers, copywriters, virtual assistants and translators. Ultimately we want to include all types of professionals working with words and we’re happy to consider adding further categories if people feel we’re missing any. In terms of the end user, the site is aimed at anyone who is looking for a freelancer working with words. Students, businesses, indie authors, publishers, job seekers, bloggers ... the more, the merrier.
LH: The site looks great, Nick – and very user friendly, too, for both the editorial freelancers who advertise their services and those looking for help with their written work. You’ve clearly devoted a lot of time to ensuring the directory works in terms of design and usability. Was it a big task? Can you tell us a bit about what the process involved and the experience you brought to the table when you set about it?
NJ: The site was built using WordPress. I’m no web designer but I know my way around WordPress, having used it for the Full Proof blog. I bought a premium theme, modified the code a bit, rewrote all the copy, paid a friend to design a logo, and then jazzed the site up with a load of Shutterstock images. It wasn’t a massive job, no. The hard bit is finding the time to update the blog and Facebook page regularly. I think I’m going to steal one of your ideas and have a monthly spotlight feature like this, if that’s okay with you!
LH: The thing that struck me most about the site is that it’s much more than a straightforward searchable list of providers. Can you outline the key features for us?
NJ: As I see it, Find A Proofreader has four main features that set it apart from other freelancer directories. The first one is the search bar. Other directories tend to force visitors to search by category or name. A visitor to our site can search by keywords – they don’t have to type in "proofreader" or "indexing"; they can narrow the search by typing, say, "academic", "fiction" or "blogs". As long as the freelancer has mentioned all their skills, specialities and qualifications in their listing and added all the relevant tags they can think of, they’ll show up in these more narrow searches.
The second feature I’d like to talk about is the Get A Quote system. Visitors can fill out an online form with the details of their requirements and submit it to all our advertisers at once. This is great for visitors because it enables them to gather several quotes quickly, and it’s great for the advertisers because ultimately they are advertising on the site to get leads, and we’re sending them leads every week. The enquiries come through to us first, we check they’re not spam, and then we forward them to our members.
The third key feature is the reviewing system. Users can rate advertisers out of five and write a comment about the service they received. The rating system encourages interactivity, which enhances the user experience and leads to repeat visits. More importantly, however, it shows that we care about the end users as well as the advertisers.
Finally, we have an articles section. Google loves relevant, regularly updated content so we encourage advertisers to send us articles on any subject that relates in some way to the directory’s categories. The articles have a link to the author’s website so it raises the advertiser’s profile further, while Find A Proofreader benefits as the articles will eventually show up in the search engines and it may improve the site’s overall rankings, too.
LH: So what do the advertisers get for their money? What kind of information can they include and how easy is it for them to edit their profiles?
NJ: For £20, advertisers get a standard listing for a year under the category of their choice. They can upload images to the listing, they can provide as much information as they want, and they can add as many tags as they like. The more information they provide, the more likely they’ll be found. If they have a website, they can also include a link to it. Unlike some other directories, all our links are dofollow links, which means our considerable "link juice" gets passed on to our advertisers. Google values relevant links very highly, so I’d argue that a dofollow link from a niche business directory is worth £20 a year on its own.
For £45 a year, advertisers can have a Category Featured Ad. This gives them all of the benefits listed above with two added bonuses – their listing will appear above all the standard listings in their category and it will be highlighted so it stands out more. We also have a premium advertising option for larger companies. For just £150 a year they can have a banner ad placed in the sidebar of the site’s main pages.
Editing profiles is extremely easy because the site uses the WordPress content management system. All advertisers need to do is log in, click on the Dashboard button and click on Edit Listing. If anyone does ever encounter an issue with the site or has a question or suggestion, they can contact us via email, phone or live chat. I pride myself on being as responsive as possible!
LH: And what are your plans for promoting the service?
NJ: Most of my efforts are concentrated on getting the site higher in Google’s organic search results. We’ve already seen big improvements since the redesign, but there’s always room for improvement. Google is a tricky beast to master and I’m well aware that content is king these days, so my promotion efforts are mostly spent on regular blogging, networking on Facebook and Twitter, and encouraging advertisers to submit articles to our Articles page. Because I had to buy the site in the first place, I don’t have an advertising budget as such, but I am spending what I can afford on AdWords and Facebook ad campaigns too.
LH: Many thanks, Nick. I think you’ve taken an interesting and innovative approach to running an online freelance directory and it’s been a pleasure to hear about both what’s on offer and the creative development you’ve put into the process.
To advertise your services in the directory or search for an editorial freelancer in the UK, visit the Find A Proofreader website.
About Nick Jones
If you’re a fellow editorial freelancer and want to connect with Nick, he can be contacted as follows:
Twitter: @FindProofreader and @full_proof_uk
Facebook: Find a Proofreader
Facebook: Full Proof
If you want to enquire about editing services with Full Proof visit either the UK or US website.
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!
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