Anna Sharman’s recent guest article on working for academic editing agencies prompted an interesting comment from another colleague to the effect that providing language editing services for non-English speaking researchers didn’t necessarily level the playing field at pre-submission stage.
The reason for the imbalance is obvious – researchers in the developing world are much less likely to be able to afford the cost of hiring the services of ESL editors. This leads to a publishing divide between the rich and the poor, where economics rather than academic excellence determines the ability to publish.
So who better to address the issue than Ravi Murugesan, the training coordinator of AuthorAID, a project dedicated to helping academic authors from developing countries to publish their research.
Ravi kindly agreed to an interview with The Parlour. We hope that this Q&A will draw further attention to the valuable work that AuthorAID does on behalf of the developing world’s community of scholars and the people and organizations who support it.
Louise Harnby: Many thanks for taking the time to do this interview Ravi. First of all, can you tell me a little bit about your own background and how you came to be involved with AuthorAID?
Ravi Murugesan: Thank you, Louise, for your interest in AuthorAID at INASP. My academic background is in engineering. I completed a master’s degree in the US, but I decided I wasn’t meant to be an engineer after working in a semiconductor company for a few months. I became an authors’ editor at the Editage office in Mumbai, and after a couple of years I became the manager of the education business in the same organization. When I saw the job advert for the training coordinator position at AuthorAID, I was fascinated by the role, particularly the part about travelling to developing countries to facilitate workshops on scientific writing. I joined AuthorAID in March 2011.
LH: Can you tell me more about the foundations of the AuthorAID programme, such as where it’s based, who it serves, what its objectives are and how it all started? I understand the idea was first mooted by the editors of the Journal of Public Health Policy back in 2004.
RM: AuthorAID is one of the projects run by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), a charity based in Oxford. There are now a number of independent AuthorAID initiatives. At INASP, AuthorAID is part of the Programme for the Enhancement for Research Information, which began in 2002 with the goal of strengthening the research communication cycle in developing countries. In this interview, I talk about just the AuthorAID programme at INASP.
AuthorAID’s mission is to support developing country researchers in publishing their work. We focus on the researchers in INASP’s 22 partner countries, but our website is open to all. We now have 5,000 members on the site, and much of the site’s content is available without registration. But with registration, researchers can join our online mentoring scheme as a mentee or mentor.
We also conduct workshops on research writing in our partner countries, maintain a frequently updated blog and resource library (with hundreds of free e-resources), and offer grants for research communication.
LH: Is the programme for authors in all fields of the academic spectrum, or just the sciences?
RM: Researchers from any field are welcome to register on our website. The workshops we conduct are oriented towards researchers in scientific fields, but we’re looking to improve our offerings for researchers in the humanities and social sciences. A few months back, we were invited by the British Academy to give a talk on mentoring to social science researchers in West Africa at a career development workshop in Ghana.
LH: From a language-editing perspective, how does it work? Let’s say a scholar from Nepal has a research project that they want to write up and submit to an academic journal, but their English-language skills restrict submission and they can’t afford to hire an ESL editor from the developing world. How can they get round the problem of affordability vs quality editing?
RM: They have two options: they can look for a mentor who would be willing to edit their work, or they can contact one of the editing services we have listed on our site. (These companies offer discounts to AuthorAID members.) Some mentors may be more interested in helping with the writing process than editing a paper after it is written. So I would recommend that authors from developing countries look for a mentor when they are about to begin writing a paper.
LH: There may be freelance academic editors reading this who would consider working on manuscripts from AuthorAID members. What should they do if they want to provide language editing services for scholars in the developing world?
RM: We would love to have more academic copy editors join our community as mentors. Because of my own background in this area, I was able to mentor an early-career researcher in Zimbabwe. I helped him develop a hypothesis and write his paper. I also clarified many questions he had about referencing and the peer review process. By being a mentor, I developed a greater appreciation of the effort that a researcher invests in writing a paper.
Even if academic copy editors don’t wish to get involved in the writing process as mentors, they can still provide a valuable service by editing the papers of mentees. You must be aware that a lot of journal editors and peer reviewers consider the language in a paper to be indicative of the quality of the research reported. By presenting a well-written (or well-edited) paper, a researcher has a better chance of getting published.
We recommend that mentees acknowledge their mentors in any published papers, so editorial mentors can request their mentees for such acknowledgement. However, I would advise mentors to think of this as a possible bonus and not a goal as such. AuthorAID mentees often work in resource-poor settings and may face numerous hurdles in the journey to publication. Sometimes, the dedicated effort of a mentor may not be enough for a mentee to get published. But usually both the mentor and mentee learn a lot, and the mentee may be better equipped to publish in the future.
LH: Who are your key partners in the programme, broadly speaking?
RM: We have organized joint workshops with science foundations and networks, such as the International Foundation for Science and the Royal Society of Chemistry. In fact, just a month back we organized two workshops in Kenya with these partners. We are always looking to partner with other organizations that have missions similar to ours.
LH: Do you offer financial help to researchers from lower-income countries, and if so what are the criteria for assessment?
RM: We provide travel and workshop grants, and these are explained in our latest call for applications.
LH: Can you share some examples of people who AuthorAID has helped on their scholarly publishing journey?
RM: A few weeks back, our country coordinator in Ethiopia told me that one of the researchers who attended the workshop I facilitated last November has just published a paper in a journal. I was thrilled and did an interview with her, which has just gone up on the AuthorAID blog.
In April, a scientist who attended the AuthorAID workshop in Zambia won the workshop grant, and she is very motivated to share her knowledge with female researchers in her department.
Every now and then, we do formal impact assessments. When we did this last year for the AuthorAID workshop in Rwanda that was held in 2009, we were pleased to see that there had been a substantial increase in the publications of the participants.
LH: What’s coming up in the future for AuthorAID? Are there any special events or plans in the pipeline that you’d like to share?
RM: The AuthorAID e-learning system has just been launched, and the blog post from last week has more details.
LH: To round off, Ravi, please tell us how to get in touch with AuthorAID.
A note from Louise: This article was written back in 2012 by my colleague Anna Sharman. For those of you looking for other avenues to explore in a bid to build up your work flows and client portfolios, especially if you have a scientific background, this is a must-read. Anna now runs her own dedicated scientific editorial consultancy, Cofactor, but back in 2012 she worked for a number of editing agencies.
Over to Anna ...
What do I do?
I am a copyeditor and proofreader specializing in biomedical journal articles. As well as working for journals on articles that have been accepted, I also work with scientists to get their articles ready for submission to journals. Some of this work comes through editing agencies.
I got into this field through doing a PhD and postdoctoral research in developmental/evolutionary biology and then working as an in-house editor on three biology journals. I went freelance in 2005.
What are editing agencies?
Academic editing agencies act as a bridge between freelance editors and authors. Authors who want to have a paper edited can find it hard to know which of the many editors out there are any good. For freelance editors, working directly for authors can be hard because each author will only have a small number of papers a year. So agencies have sprung up to help authors find editors and vice versa.
Generally, these agencies offer editing of the language. Some also offer developmental editing: a report on the content of the manuscript, with suggestions on any obvious gaps in the logic or areas that are unclear.
Academic editing agencies have probably been around for a long time, but I think they have increased in number in recent years. They have arisen in response to pressure from journals for well written manuscripts. Journals are generally happy to consider manuscripts that have minor errors or that don't read as if they were written by a native English speaker. However, if a manuscript is so badly written that peer reviewers cannot work out what experiments are being described, the journal cannot reasonably send it for peer review without further work.
In addition, journals are always trying to cut costs, and freelance editors (unfortunately) are seen as expensive. Manuscripts that do get through peer review generally still need copyediting, to ensure that they make sense, use consistent terminology and symbols and are in good English. To cut down on copyediting costs, some publishers are asking authors to get their articles edited at their own expense.
The expansion of editing agencies is also the result of an enormous expansion of science in China and other Asian countries. Although many non-native-speaking researchers ask native-English-speaking colleagues to check their work, in most Asian institutes there are not enough native speakers to check all the papers being produced. In addition, Chinese academics are often rewarded financially for publications in English-language journals, which means that it can make sense to pay for editing to make this more likely.
Some publishers have now entered into partnerships with editing agencies. This means that if a manuscript is rejected because of language problems, or if revision is invited after peer review but language problems have been mentioned by the reviewers, the journal suggests that the authors get their manuscript checked by a native speaker, and sometimes recommends a particular editing agency. Sometimes authors from that journal publisher receive a discount on the agency's fees. Other publishers list a selection of agencies, without recommending one in particular, in their instructions for authors (see, for example, this list from Public Library of Science and this list from Wiley). And some publishers have set up their own editing services (such as Elsevier and Nature Publishing Group).
What's distinctive about working for editing agencies?
I enjoy working for editing agencies for several reasons. In general, this kind of work has a lot of the advantages of working directly for authors but without many of the disadvantages.
I prefer working on pre-submission research papers because I am seeing the research soon after it happens, rather than months or years later. I like helping people get their science published despite language barriers, contributing in a small way to levelling the playing field caused by the predominance of English in academic publishing.
I also enjoy the challenge of working on a piece of writing at an early stage, because it means I can concentrate more on the meaning and less on fine points of formatting. When copyediting for journals, I spend a large proportion of my time applying house style, adjusting spacing, fonts, capitalization and other such minor style points. With pre-submission editing, I can ignore most of that and concentrate on working out what the author is trying to say and how to make the meaning clearer. Developmental editing gets even closer to the science and further from the stylistic details.
Like working for publishers, however, working for an agency has the advantage that if the author disagrees with you on any change, the agency can arbitrate. And, as I mentioned above, agencies can channel a steady stream of papers your way, from many authors, saving the time and effort needed for marketing your services to a lot of different universities and institutes.
When you work for researchers, whether directly or through an agency, bear in mind that they often work weekends and through holidays, and that weekends and holidays differ between countries. The agencies I work for all give deadlines in calendar days not working days, and if I want to have weekends off I have to specify this. Generally you can specify which days of the week you normally work and inform them when you will be on holiday, and they send work only when you are available. You have to remember to tell the agency about public holidays in your country – they won't necessarily know about them automatically.
What are clients looking for?
Academic agencies generally want editors who have experience in academia in the right field, which generally means a PhD and some published research. Some of them also want qualifications, training and/or experience in editing, though others do not – some even recruit active scientists who want to earn a little on the side. The agencies I work for, however, want experienced editors.
There is nearly always an editing test, at least for big agencies, to check whether you can cope with the kind of editing required. This will test not only what changes you make but also how you word your queries to the author (of which there will be a lot).
How to access the field
If you search online you will find lots of academic editing agencies, and many of them are looking out for qualified editors with PhDs all the time. I have heard, however, that some of them pay pretty badly, and of course it is always important to check out a potential client with whom you hope to have an ongoing working relationship. So how do you find reliable ones to start working for?
The best way is to go via the publishers, particularly any publishers you are already working for. Check in their online instructions to authors for agencies that they recommend. Then send a speculative email to an agency, giving a brief summary of your qualifications and experience. The chances are that you will be given an editing test (which will probably be unpaid). Then, if you are accepted as one of their editors, there may be a period of training when your editing will be checked carefully and the rate of pay may be lower. If you fail the test, consider any feedback carefully but don't worry too much about not being good enough. It could be that your style of editing simply doesn't fit what the agency is looking for. Try another and don't give up unless you have taken several tests. Alternatively, this kind of editing might not be for you (see below).
What’s the pay like?
Agencies generally pay by number of words rather than by the hour. This means that it is difficult to work out how much you will get per hour, and that the hourly rate can sometimes work out low and sometimes high. I prefer working for a fixed fee as I tend to be quite a fast worker and enjoy finding ways to work more efficiently.
Because they are acting as intermediaries, agencies always take a cut of the fee that the author pays them. Working directly for the author would therefore pay more, in theory – but only if you can do enough marketing to get as much work as you would get through an agency.
When trying out a new agency, check the pay rate per thousand words (this will either be supplied when you enquire or be published on the agency's website). Then try to work out the speed at which you can edit this kind of material. If you are more used to editing accepted papers, assume this kind of work will be considerably slower. I suggest giving an agency a try for a few months to see whether the rates work out OK for you.
Some agencies pay very quickly after each job is completed; others pay two months or more later. Watch out for international bank charges, too – charges can be levied by intermediate banks that aren't in the control of either the sender's or the recipient's bank. Bear this in mind when working out whether the fees are worthwhile.
Is this kind of editing for you?
Editing material by authors whose English is limited isn't for everyone. You may prefer to work on manuscripts at a later stage, when they have already been approved by a publisher. You may not know whether you enjoy this kind of work until you try it. But if you have a research background and some editing experience, I'd recommend it for the challenge. And if you want to work with pre-submission papers, going through an agency has definite advantages.
Copyright 2012 Anna Sharman
[Note from the Proofreader's Parlour: A fuller list of publishers that include language editing services on their websites, and that you may wish to contact, is available at: Getting Noticed – Web-based English-Language Editing Services Listings.]
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.
A note from Louise: I'm delighted to welcome my colleague and fellow SfEP member Paul Beverley to this latest Spotlight feature on The Parlour. Paul is a freelance proofreader and editor who specializes in technical material. He is the author of Macros for Editors and Proofreaders, a wonderful resource packed with nearly 400 macros, all freely available to anyone. You can contact him by email, on his Archive Publications website or via his SfEP Directory listing.
How do you react when a fellow editor or proofreader mentions the word "macros"? If your response is either "too technical for me" or "not worth the effort" then please read on ...
What is a macro?
For many of us – including me – our introduction to macros (September 2007, for me) was being taught how to record them. I found it a little difficult to get hold of (and I’m reasonably technical), and the jobs that I could do with the macros so produced didn’t seem to be worth the effort. Use it or lose it? I lost it!
But then I had a job I wanted to do that I thought a more complex macro could handle, and a friend who knew about macros programmed it for me; once I had a really useful macro, I was motivated to use them more and more.
So if someone has given you the impression that a macro is "something you record that will allow you to do a job repeatedly", then you’ve been sold very, very short. It’s like asking whether a "vehicle" is a useful thing, and being told that a vehicle is "a two-wheeled device with a saddle and pedals". There are a thousand and one different types of vehicle, and they can be used for ten thousand and one different jobs. So with macros.
But are they too technical?
OK, I admit that there is a learning curve. Yes, you have to make the effort to learn how to load and use macros (notice that I don’t say "to program macros", let alone to record one), but it’s not that difficult, and if you get a feel for just how much macros can help you, you’ll realize that it really is worth climbing the curve.
And there is help out there. I’ve written a book about macros and, at the beginning, I’ve tried to give a gentle and careful introduction to what a macro is, what sort of things it can do, how to put one in your computer, and how to use it. And the book is free – click here for your copy.
So what do they do?
How long have you got? How much space will Louise allow me? My book has 400+ different macros in it!
Let’s look at one scenario and see how macros can help – I’ve deliberately chosen an example that applies equally to proofreaders as to editors.
You’ve just received a new book to edit or proofread (and I’m assuming here that if you’re reading on paper, you have at least got a PDF to hand). So what information would help you to do a really good job (and not take loads of time over it)? You’ve got a lot of questions to answer such as UK/US and is/iz spelling, serial comma or not, single/double quotes, words/figures for numbers, punctuation of ie/etc/et al/people’s initials/numbers with units, C/chapter, S/section, F/fig,/F/figure, etc. And that’s before we start thinking about the use of alternative spellings: co-oper/cooper, focussing/focusing, spelt/spelled. And what about the use of hyphenation?
I won’t go into details but my macros DocAlyse, HyphenAlyse, SpellAlyse, UKUScount, IZIScount and ProperNounAlyse will each look at different aspects of your book and inform you about what the author has done. Yes, your brief will tell you about certain things that you must impose, but where there’s no guidance given, isn’t it best to go with what the author has done as a majority? How many times have I made a style decision on the basis of chapters 1 to 3 only to realize by chapter 5/6 that, in chapters 4 to 20, the author has used exactly the opposite convention?! I’m sure you know that sickening feeling when you realize your mistake and the time it’s going to take to rectify it.
And so far I’ve only mentioned six of the 370 macros.
Forgive me if I blow my own trumpet a tad, but I believe that the vast range of macros that I’ve provided – for free – can completely change your work effectiveness. Since 2007, my average hourly rate (since I always try to insist on working for a fixed fee) has increased by over 40 per cent. OK, that’s partly experience and partly being able to pick and choose which jobs I take on, but if I suddenly had, for some reason, to stop using macros, the consistency of my work would drop, and my average earning rate would drop, too. And since I went freelance, I have never missed a client’s deadline.
At the beginning of my book I’ve tried to give an overview of the different sorts of macros available, and have tried to order the book in a vaguely logical way, but it’s difficult for the macro newbie to know what’s worth using. The book isn’t exactly what you would call "bedtime reading", so your best bet is probably to ask other people which macros they find are the biggest time-savers – I know that for Louise it’s my reference citation checking system, CiteCheck, which she uses for proofs where the short title system is in place.
When I’m proofreading, the macros mentioned above are the ones that increase my efficiency most, but when I’m editing, it has to be FRedit. This is not just a macro, but a whole new concept in automating the editing process – but that’s another whole story!
Why not start the ball rolling by telling us what your favourite is?
Case study: using macros to prepare for book work
In case it’s of any use to anyone, here’s what I do as I start a new book job. I claim no more than that this is what I find useful. This is all investigative work – no changes are made to the text in any of the following macros.
Copyright 2012 Paul Beverley
Working with adult material (pornography and erotica) is clearly not for everyone, and it can occasionally be challenging, but it requires the same care and thought as anything else on the editor’s work pile.
My guest this week is editor and journalist Louise Bolotin. Here, she offers an editor’s guide to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, with a bit of blasphemy thrown in for good measure.
What’s your first thought when an editor offers you work that is quite clearly what’s usually described as 'adult material'?
Do you think, 'Eww, how disgusting!' and reply with a 'Thanks, but no thanks'? Or do you, like me, say yes because, you know, it’s just work and there’ll be a nice cheque at the end of it?
Hovering around as I do on professional forums, on the rare occasions the topic comes up it’s clear that most editors fall into the 'no way!' camp.
Working on anything explicitly sexual is always going to be a personal choice, although there’s a world of difference between editing a sex guide aimed at teens, with info on STIs and using condoms correctly, and hardcore or even medium-core erotica, the latter being the kind of material I’m most likely to work on in the genre. I’ve yet to be offered any Mills and Boon titles.
I’ve often found that when I’ve been approached to take on projects, it’s been accompanied with an apology and a warning of the content, particularly from large, well-known publishing houses.
Most memorably, an email I received offering work came complete with a chain of internal emails below the line, suggesting that the project should probably be given to a man as it was potentially offensive. Heaven forfend that a woman should edit anything explicit because we all know how difficult it is to buy smelling salts these days! I assured the project manager that I’m neither prudish nor easily offended and the manuscript was duly sent to me.
Editing strong language doesn’t bother me at all. I cut my career teeth as a journalist and newsrooms are renowned for their high swear word count – you won’t survive if you can’t cope with your editor telling you several times a day to 'get your fucking act tofuckinggether or get your fucking P45 on the fucking way out'.
However, there’s more to editing explicit work than not fainting at any effing and blinding in print. Material needs to be handled sensitively, whether it’s fiction or factual – this is someone’s work, after all, and it’s essential to put personal feelings aside. All the usual editing decisions need to be made – clarity, consistency, cutting and queries, plus creating style sheets for those trickier spellings.
I worked five years as a freelance copy-editor and commissioner for the fetish magazine Skin Two, aimed at people into rubber sex and clothing. While the photo spreads tend towards the erotic and daring, most of the feature articles are distinctly intellectual in tone rather than sexy – during my stint we ran serious articles on everything from censorship and depictions of non-mainstream sex in mainstream film to the subversion of Nazi symbolism for erotic enjoyment and the works of illustrative authors such as Alan Moore.
These features were usually between 3,000 and 5,000 words in length and on a par with anything you’d find in a dedicated arts magazine.
Flicking through back issues, it was clear my first task would be to create a style book suitable for such a distinctive magazine. I recall lengthy discussions with the editor about whether to opt for 'perv' rather than 'perve' or 'pervert' – our readership, chiefly A, B and C1, liked to call themselves thus with a knowing and cheeky nod to the more tabloid usage of such words.
The style guide needed to reflect both their intelligence and their community’s own home-grown terminology. Putting it together was an interesting crash course in the culture of a distinct sexual minority.
Perhaps the most memorable title I worked on was Jack the Ripper’s Secret Confession, one book in a long line of theories on the true identity of the UK’s first known serial killer. I’ve worked on several Ripper books and as an avid reader of crime fiction I’m used to gore.
This particular book theorised that the Ripper was a wealthy Victorian gentleman known only as Walter, a rapist who was obsessed with prostitutes and knives. His deeply explicit diaries were published in the same year as the Ripper began his spree.
Fewer than 20 copies were printed, they were banned for obscenity and the few surviving editions even today remain locked in the British Library’s famous 'closed cupboard', where scholars need to apply for permission to study them.
The diaries are, of course, out of copyright so the book authors were free to quote as much of them as they wished to stand up their theory – and quote they did. Whole chapters often consisted of fifty per cent or even more of passages from Walter’s pornographic journal.
Every sexual encounter of his was described in explicit four-letter word detail. I quickly became desensitised to the repetitive use of 'fuck', 'cunt', 'cock', 'minge' and more on almost every page.
Even filth needs editing
The temptation when this occurs is to glaze over the explicit passages and focus on the author’s own words. A bad mistake, as even filth needs editing.
I made an editorial decision to leave all spellings in the original (and being Victorian, they varied a fair bit from the standard spellings of today) as long as they were understandable, but to edit the punctuation rigorously for clarity.
Walter didn’t care much for commas or speech marks, you see, and some of his passages required extensive scrutiny to figure out what on earth he was saying.
These were highly challenging issues for a book that not only needed to be accessible for the modern reader and ensure the authors’ edited work was of sufficient merit as any other Ripperology title but also paid tribute, bizarre as it might seem, to the diaries the book had inspired.
I was secretly rather chuffed when one of the authors emailed me after publication to thank me and let me know that the Los Angeles Times had described it as a 'hyperventilating noxious stew wallowing in depravity' and called for it to be banned.
At least it was a well-edited noxious stew…
The challenging stuff ...
In truth, I found an earlier manuscript I worked on, about Jack the Ripper and other notorious serial killers throughout history, much harder.
There was little sexually explicit material but a very graphic description of what one murderer had done with his victims’ body parts burned my eyeballs and gave me sleepless nights for some time after.
Sometimes you edit stuff you’d rather not know about, but like the intrepid blokes who clean our sewers it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. With pride for doing a job well done. And, frankly, my trauma must have paled in comparison to that of the police officers who had to deal with that.
It's not for everyone
More recently I copy-edited a debut novel from a youngish author – a blackly comic yet highly literary tale about the Norwegian heavy metal music scene, rippled through with wall-to-wall blasphemy and explicit sex scenes that were nasty, brutish and (thankfully!) short.
Having begun my career as a rock journalist, this project was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever been offered but, like the others, it came with a warning – about the blasphemy in this case.
I’m an atheist so I was able to approach this with no misgivings but I completely understand that an editor with a faith, of any sort, might find this difficult material. The explicit sex I took in my stride but dealing with the religious issues, which were as much about Satanism as Christianity, needed a lot of care to ensure that the novel rang true while avoiding causing offence unnecessarily.
I did a huge amount of fact-checking on the internet – mainly on the Christian issues plus the heavy metal genre – as well as coming up with a style sheet that provided consistency on religious and other central themes.
Can you do it?
My take on editing adult material is that it really shouldn’t be beyond any experienced copy-editor worth their salt although I can understand that some will feel it’s not for them because of their personal beliefs, as is their right.
Such work needs the same meticulous attention to detail as any other. For those new to the industry it could be as good a way to gain experience as any, particularly as there seems to be a dearth among us who are willing to tackle the more challenging manuscripts.
Ian Dury sang 'sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll, is all my brain and body needs' – I like to think they are an important sector in the manuscripts I edit, too.
Copyright 2012 Louise Bolotin
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 join Louise’s Writing Library. Members receive monthly updates featuring self-publishing news and resources.
The Fiction Freelancing series presents the individual experiences of editorial freelancers working on the genre of fiction within both the publishing sector and the independent-author market. Here in Part II Ben Corrigan focuses on editing for non-publisher clients. Ben has been a freelance proofreader and copy-editor since 2009. Prior to that he was a proofreader for Yell and a TV-listings writer and sub-editor. He lives in Bristol. You can contact him via his website: The Whole Proof; and on Twitter: @thewholeproof.
Other posts in the series cover proofreading for trade publishers (Part I; Louise Harnby), editing adult material (Part III; Louise Bolotin), and editing genre fiction (Part IV; Marcus Trower).
As a freelance proofreader and editor with a passion for fiction, I consider myself extremely fortunate whenever I have the opportunity to work on poetry or prose.
Independent authors might approach an editor or proofreader for a number of reasons. In my experience, a significant proportion are thinking of sending their work to an agent or publisher and want to make sure the manuscript has been polished before they do so. I have also worked with authors who are planning to self-publish their work, or who have already self-published and want the next edition to be free from mistakes; who are intending to enter their writing in a competition; and who are curious about what an editor will bring to their work.
I did an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, graduating in 2008. The MA was a challenging, occasionally terrifying, and always inspiring experience. I would do it every year for the rest of my life if I could, because if you are passionate about writing, then being able to write, to share your writing with other writers, and to talk about writing week in, week out, is an amazing way to spend your time. As a colleague of mine said after the course, you really felt, for that year, as though you were a writer.
While I do not think that you need to be a writer to be an editor of fiction, the course taught me two important lessons: first, how to be a better reader; and, second, how it feels to receive feedback on your work. I can remember all too clearly how I felt the first time my writing was workshopped. I had not really shared my writing before then, and to have it subjected to such close scrutiny was bizarre. I understand that, whatever your subject, writing is extremely personal and an extension of yourself, and I try to keep that in mind whenever I am editing fiction, and to be sensitive when suggesting changes.
In the vast majority of my work with independent authors, my role has been as a copy-editor, or has covered the area between copy-editing and proofreading that Louise mentioned in her post. To date, I have not worked with an author who has wanted a structural edit. I have found that authors are generally happy with their story and are more concerned with the nuts and bolts of the writing. Naturally, having a clear brief before starting out is a must. For longer pieces, I will always offer to provide a sample so that the customer can see the kinds of changes and suggestions I might make.
My own approach to copy-editing when working with independent authors is to intervene as little as possible. Unless they have stated otherwise, I will assume that the writer is happy with what they have produced. This might seem self-evident. But it is important to be aware of how easy it can be, when editing, to start imposing your own style. For instance, I am aware that I am quite fond of commas. Where commas are preferential, I will prefer them. This may not be in line with the author’s style, and may not be appropriate for the writing. Of course, we all have our preferences, and that is one aspect to be conscious of when copy-editing. Does the writing have three or four semi-colons in each paragraph? Do you keep noticing the same adjective or the same expression? This kind of repetition might have been employed for effect, but if you are certain it hasn’t, you might feel you can improve the writing by varying the style. Any verbal or grammatical tic that might distract a reader, and break their suspension of disbelief, is worthy of consideration while editing.
The layout of the document can be a thorny issue, and is best discussed with the client. Poetry is a separate case, but for fiction, I will encourage an author to adopt a traditional layout that is easy to read: double spaced, a simple font (Times New Roman is fine), with paragraphs indented and with no spaces between them. (I use Word 2007 and do not understand why the default setting is to have a space between paragraphs … But that is a gripe for another time!) It helps to have an understanding of how fiction is (more often than not) presented: for instance, how to indicate a break in a chapter. The author might not know, and you can therefore help to bring clarity to a story by making the right changes.
In this regard, the layout of dialogue is probably the most demanding area when working on fiction. Louise made the important point of authors choosing to break with convention, and there are many ways to present and indicate dialogue: inverted commas, quotation marks, em dashes, or no punctuation at all. Cormac McCarthy is a good example of a writer who prefers not to use punctuation for dialogue. He is skilled (together with his editor, perhaps!) at making sure that, despite the lack of punctuation – and thus no obvious distinction between action and dialogue – there is no confusion over who is speaking and when. Whatever style the author chooses, an understanding of how to present dialogue simply and clearly, so that there is no doubt about which character is talking, is a must. This can be a particular issue if there are more than two characters in a scene. If I can’t follow the conversation, I will flag the offending lines for the author to clarify if they wish.
Character consciousness can also be indicated in a variety of ways. I have just started to read Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky, in which thoughts are presented in the same way as speech. This is perhaps unusual and old-fashioned, but is it wrong? ‘This is how to present character consciousness,’ he thought. This is how to present character consciousness, he thought. This is how to present character consciousness, he thought. I think these are all valid ways to present a character’s thoughts. The important point is to ensure a consistent approach has been taken.
I might look to sharpen up the writing by cutting out words that are redundant. An author may use multiple adjectives without realising that two are synonyms, for example. Similarly, adverbs can be abused and overused and are an element that I will sometimes be more ruthless with. If I was being pressed – which I am not, but this is my first blog post, so I am going to be bold and tell you anyway – I would say that the words most commonly (over)used by budding authors of prose fiction are ‘quickly’ and ‘slowly’. I think they are often employed to bring urgency to the writing – even in the case of ‘slowly’, which seems to be trying to add some drama to whatever action is being described. These kinds of words can be used once too often, in which case I will look to intervene and draw the author’s attention to the repetition.
There are of course basic aspects to editing fiction, such as ensuring characters’ names do not change inexplicably and that the action and description are not contradictory or unclear. I think there can be a certain mindset involved in carrying out a line-by-line edit – where you are looking closely at each sentence and the way it works – which may not involve seeing and understanding the bigger picture of the story and the way it unfolds. Louise highlighted the danger of enjoying proofreading fiction too much, and getting lost in the story. I don’t think this is such a problem when copy-editing fiction. In fact, I think the opposite might sometimes be the case, and the problem is that you don’t get lost in the story enough, and therefore fail to see holes and inconsistencies. Depending on the nature of the project, it can be helpful to read the text more than once so that you have a full appreciation of the setting, the characters, and the story.
In some cases I might go deeper into the writing and consider issues such as point of view (if the writing is in the third person). Point of view can be subtle and tricky, and I don’t want to go into it in too much detail in this post. I will say that it is generally more common for contemporary writing, when written in the third person, to take a close or limited third-person point of view, rather than an omniscient one. That means the action is seen from one character’s point of view. Authors might adopt this for the most part but slip into the points of view of other characters, turning a limited point of view into an omniscient one. If this is a mistake rather than deliberate, intervention may strengthen the writing. I might also look to move action into the moment, if possible, or at least suggest this as a possibility. For instance, a passage that begins ‘I often went to the shops’ might be more powerful if it can be turned into concrete action: ‘I went to the shops.’ This kind of intervention can involve significant rewriting and is best discussed with the author.
Freelance editing can offer up a great variety of interesting work, and, to me, fiction is the best example of this: always unique and never a chore. In a selfish sense, writers can also be a good source of repeat work! If you can develop a good working relationship with an author and perhaps bring something extra to their writing, they are likely to come back and use you again. Having gone through the process of working with an editor myself, when producing an extract for the MA anthology, I can testify to the virtues of having another set of eyes look at your writing.
I will end with a quote from a writer to an editor (the editor of a newspaper, I understand; the writer is Raymond Chandler): ‘when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.’ The method – ‘eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive’ – sounds to me like a sound one to adopt when editing fiction, too.
Copyright Ben Corrigan 2012
Have you copy-edited fiction for independent authors? If so and there's something you want to add about your own experiences, please let us know in the Comments section.
Louise Harnby: To kick off, Jen, tell us a little bit about Salt – who you are, how it started, where you’re based and what you publish.
Jen Hamilton-Emery: It’s 12 years now since we published our first book, and 10 years since Chris and I (Chris is my husband – together we run Salt) gave up our corporate careers to give Salt 100% of our time and attention. I’ll never forget when Chris told me he’d handed in his notice – that month Salt’s sales were £200 and I feared for our future! But it’s been the most gloriously exciting rollercoaster ride; I’m pleased we decided to do what we did. We’ve always published poetry, and for the past five years or so have also published short stories – a genre that we felt was much-neglected and deserved some championing. Since then we’ve published novels and more recently taken on some wonderful editors, Nick Royle, Roddy Lumsden, Steve Haynes and Linda Bennett, who are developing our fiction, poetry, sci-fi and crime lists respectively, all of which launch this year.
LH: You have an international author base. How do you find your authors and what are you looking for when you read the initial submission?
JHE: Our editors are actively involved in their respective genres, reading magazines and journals, going to readings, reading reviews and so on. We are always on the lookout for new, up-and-coming talent, as well as publishing people who have already made a name for themselves through publication elsewhere. It goes without saying that we are looking for a high standard of writing, but also for books that people will find new and interesting that we can market and sell. We also run two prizes: the Crashaw Prize for debut collections of poetry, and the Scott Prize for debut collections of short stories. The quality of manuscripts we receive for these is outstanding – there is so much good writing out there!
LH: I recently read AJ Ashworth’s Somewhere Else, or Even Here, an exquisitely written book of short stories that you published in 2011. To me the book felt like a perfect example of publishing with passion. John Thompson, author of Merchants of Culture (Polity Press, 2010), has written about the pressures on large, corporate presses to move away from high-risk publishing, and focus instead on so-called cash cows (celebrity memoirs spring to mind) in order to satisfy the demands of shareholders and venture capitalists who aren’t necessarily publishers at heart. It seems to me that this endangers the creative flair of the commissioning editor and limits the degree to which outstanding writers can find a voice. Salt, however, is a family-run, independent press. What does this mean for your publishing strategy and the philosophy behind your publishing vision? Does your independence give you more freedom to follow your heart?
JHE: We are very lucky that have the freedom to publish what we want. However, each commission has to have both the heart and the head in agreement. Our investment of time and money in bringing a book to market has to generate a profit otherwise we’d go bust! I’m so pleased that you enjoyed AJ Ashworth’s book – thank you. It was a winner of the 2011 Scott Prize and has since gone on to be shortlisted for the prestigious Edge Hill Prize. It is a perfect example of "publishing with passion" – she is a new writer, working in a traditionally difficult-to-sell genre. However, on saying that, some of the larger publishing houses have recently started to make a big deal about publishing short stories – we like to think that we’ve done something positive in making it a sexy genre.
LH: Can you tell us about the challenges that independent family-run publishers face in the current market and your approach to dealing with these? I’m particularly interested in the “Just One Book” campaign, which is one of the most creative and innovative methods I’ve seen from a publishing company in terms of engaging with its customers.
JHE: Many independent family-run businesses are finding these economic times tough ones to operate in. The recession hit us early on and in 2008 we launched our Just One Book campaign, which encouraged everyone to buy one book – if enough people did it, we’d sell enough to keep ourselves afloat. The response was tremendous, with people across the globe spreading the word and buying our books. Thanks to them we are here today. We took the time after that to redesign Salt – by bringing in new editors and diversifying our lists we would reach a wider audience; we also revisited our distribution and marketing arrangements, including taking on the services of a sales team.
LH: You award international annual prizes for first collections of stories and poetry. Can you tell our readers a little more about these awards and who is eligible?
JHE: The Crashaw Prize and the Scott Prize are open to anyone living in the UK, Ireland, the US and Australia and are for debut collections of poetry or short stories. We don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts (we used to but were inundated and could never find the time to read them), but we saw that for many people with debut collections it was difficult for them to get their work in front of an editor. This was our way of giving them a way in to having their work noticed, and equally, for us to discover and breathe life into new talent.
LH: What about e-publishing and Salt? The by-line on your website, “the home of beautiful books”, clearly demonstrates the care you give to the design element. How does this impact on decisions to publish digitally or in print? Is digital publishing something you’re looking to expand, in full or in part, in the future?
JHE: We put a lot of effort into making our books as good to look at as they are to read and as a side-line we run The Cover Factory, providing cover design services to many of the large trade and academic publishers. We also put a lot of effort into our typesetting and properly think through the size of our books so the reader has an all-round positive experience reading them. As far as ebooks go, we’re rather late adopters. A few of our books are available in both print and digital formats, but it’s not something we’ve rushed into. However, we think now we’ll start making more of our books available as ebooks – they lack all aesthetics, but nevertheless seem to becoming more popular, so needs must.
LH: How did The Cover Factory come about, what does it involve, and who are your clients?
JHE: We’ve always had feedback about the high quality of our covers and over the years have been approached by other publishers asking if we would consider designing for them. Only recently did we decide that we would, though I’m not sure why we took so long! Cambridge University Press, Polity Press, Bloomsbury, and Taylor and Francis are amongst our clients. We enjoy the work and the challenge of working for different publishers across their various lists. You can see some of the work we’ve done on The Cover Factory's website.
LH: And finally, Jen, what exciting projects do you have in the pipeline? Who are the writers we should be looking out for in the coming months? And what are your future goals for the press?
JHE: Goodness, where to start! Well, first of all we are crossing our fingers for AJ Ashworth’s Edge Hill shortlisting, and novelist Padrika Tarrant, whose book, The Knife Drawer, has been shortlisted by the Authors’ Club. We have just published the 2012 edition of The Best British Short Stories, which is one of our highlight books, and we’re looking forward to the autumn when its sister, The Best British Poetry, is being published. Later in the year we’re launching our new crime and sci-fi series, including Blood Fugue by Joseph D'Lacey and In the Family by CA James, plus some wonderful debut novels, including The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, and the 2012 Crashaw and Scott Prize winners. Plus, to coincide with National Short Story Week, we’re publishing a star-studded anthology of stories designed to be read aloud: Overheard, edited by Jonathan Taylor. As for the future – well, we want to continue publishing the best books. And winning the Booker Prize would be nice.
LH: Thank you so much, Jen. It’s been a pleasure. There’s plenty for us to look out for. And as a lover of the crime and sci-fi genres, I’m certainly adding D’Lacey and James to my watch list!
Update: Since this interview took place, Alison Moore's The Lighthouse has been short-listed for the Man Booker prize. The Parlour's fingers are crossed!
A note from Louise: This guest article from my colleague Dr Shani D’Cruze is a thoughtful assessment of the dissertation/thesis market for editorial freelancers. It reviews the reasons for the growth of the sector, the possibilities and potential problems for the proofreader and copy-editor (including ethical issues), and the guidance offered by education institutions and professional societies.
As someone who not so long ago supervised and examined student dissertations and theses, and now offers to proofread and copy-edit them, I was interested when I found the online discussion board for the Society of Editors and Proofreaders preoccupied by the professional and ethical issues that student clients raise for SfEP members.
Although especially perfectionist students and those with dyslexia or similar conditions do seek professional editing and proofreading advice, the main constituency for proofreaders’ or copy-editors’ services are students for whom English is not their first language. (The issues are also somewhat different for students with dyslexia, for whom external proofreading can come under the rubric of “special needs” and, on a case-by-case basis, these days may be negotiated through their university.)
The growth of the international student community
The number of international students in UK universities has been rising for some time. The global dominance of English (and American English) as the language for political, administrative and academic communication – and the status of a degree from an English (or American) university – ensures that despite recent increased difficulties in obtaining visas for some students, the growing opportunities to earn a UK university qualification by studying outside the country, and concerns in some quarters that increasing student numbers will put undue pressure on resources and the student experience overall will deteriorate, international student numbers in the UK will go on rising, helped, not least, by a recent initiative from the prime minister (John Morgan, Times Higher Education, 19 January 2012; Eliza Anyangwe, Guardian, 16 April 2012; Claire Rodwell and Kyle Thetford, Cherwell, 3 May 2012).
In 2010–11, 428,225 students in UK universities (17 per cent) came from outside the EU. International students comprised 70 per cent of full-time taught postgraduates and 48 per cent of full-time research postgraduates (IKCISA). In 2012 there are 67,000 students from China and 39,000 from India studying in the UK, and numbers from these countries are set to increase (Sean Coghlan, BBC News, 13 March 2012).
The reasons for the universities’ readiness to recruit more overseas students are not hard to find. It has comparatively little to do with altruistic impulses towards the globalization of knowledge: these days UK universities can’t afford to be altruistic.
It’s about hard cash. UK higher education has been struggling for some years against declining levels of government funding, and increasingly the funding they receive is allocated according to assessments of “excellence” in research and teaching. Today, while fee levels for UK and EU students are capped, universities can charge other students as much as the market will stand (Graeme Paton and Heidi Blake, Telegraph, 12 February 2010).
The challenges facing international students
Earning an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in your second (or third) language has its challenges, and so does providing a supportive learning environment for non-native English speakers.
Universities want to be able to award good, academically sound degrees to the international students that they recruit: academic staff and departments are for the most part committed to providing a good learning experience for their students and the university as a whole is driven by the imperatives of maintaining “quality” and “excellence”.
Nevertheless, as professional proofreaders and editors can testify, it’s no easy matter to write in fluent academic English when it’s your second language, even for someone who can handle everyday communication with ease.
As an academic editor (and as a copy-editor) I’ve worked on many occasions with accomplished scholars, both postgraduate and faculty, whose research skills and conceptualization were far better than mine, but whose written academic English needed extensive editing to make it effective (sometimes to make it intelligible).
The challenges facing proofreaders and copy-editors
Judging from discussions on the SfEP discussion board, professional proofreaders and copy-editors have mixed views about working on students’ theses and dissertations. Some stick to the position that if it's meant to be the student's unaided work, and that is very strictly interpreted, there isn't any role for a professional proofreader.
This has been argued to be particularly the case in arts subjects where the quality of expression is so closely integrated into the creation of meaning and argument. A bad experience with a non-paying or overly demanding student customer can also deter professionals.
The PhD student expecting to find a proofreader for their 80,000-word thesis a week before their final deadline is not that uncommon. Others from the SfEP find that student clients tend to question every change or correction because of their lack of familiarity with academic conventions.
Above all, students are perhaps the category of clients who are least willing to pay the rates recommended for this kind of work. Nevertheless there are now growing numbers of freelancers in search of work, and this together with the increasing number of overseas students in UK universities means that more of this kind of work will be commissioned, done and (hopefully) paid for.
There are also, of course, a growing number of agencies offering to “improve” students’ work. Some of the services offered far exceed what universities or indeed most professional proofreaders and copy-editors would see as legitimate intervention in work due to be submitted for assessment.
Free-market rules apply to the offer and purchase of such services, of course, and it’s up to the universities to police any consequent academic dishonesty. The problems are probably greater in undergraduate work, where students are being assessed on a series of smaller assignments.
Does proofreading improve grades?
From my own past experience as a marker or examiner I would be surprised to find that proofreading (as understood by professional colleagues) made a worrying difference to a student's grade. It might lift a miserable piece of work to what a colleague of mine used to refer to as a “good fail”, or maybe add a couple of percentage points to the grade for a sound or good assignment, but that's about it.
Where students submit purchased off-the-peg essays or assignments re-written by commercial agencies, the abrupt change in the writing style usually makes the dishonesty obvious. My experience lies in the Humanities and Social Sciences; I can't speak for scientists.
For (longer) postgraduate dissertations and theses it’s even more unlikely that extensive academic dishonesty through re-writing by a commercial agencies (or anybody else) would go undetected. Supervisors see samples of students’ writing over the whole period of the project and guide them in the development of the research and the structuring of the written dissertation. Any sudden last-minute change in fluency or “voice” would be highly suspicious.
A postgraduate thesis or dissertation depends upon extended and detailed research. Examiners are assessing that project as a whole, including its design, originality, how it contributes to academic knowledge in its field, its findings and how they are evaluated and discussed.
The standard of academic writing and presentation is important, but a conscientious and diligent research project will be evident to examiners despite awkward, ungrammatical prose in the final dissertation.
At the same time, the work of a proofreader in cleaning up (not re-writing) the thesis, done professionally and responsibly, is as much a service to the examiners and to future readers as to the student, whose hard work in planning, researching and shaping the argument is then better revealed in the written work. The crucial issue is transparency and clear guidelines.
The US and Australian approaches
In the USA the use of outside services seems more generally accepted, providing the extent of the intervention is disclosed. In Australia, a formal and extensive code of practice, the Australian Standards for Editing Practice (ASEP) (see Guidelines for Editing Research Theses download) is embedded in universities’ degree regulations.
Across the country therefore, students, supervisors, examiners and universities know what to expect and what level and what kind of intervention is acceptable. For example, the regulations for Macquarie University [3.1.2], referring to the levels of editing specified in the ASEP, state that supervisors should be aware that a student is using a professional editor, and that the intervention should be restricted to the detail of the text in language and illustration (Standard D) and completeness and consistency (Standard E). Any advice on structure (Standard C) should be provided only as exemplars (HDR Guide).
ASEP require that editing or proofreading should be carried out on hard copy so that students themselves have to consider each editorial suggestion and make the required change themselves. They also specify that the editor’s name and a statement of the service provided should be appended to the thesis.
The UK approach
In the UK, universities each set their own approach to the proofreading and copy-editing of students’ work. A quick straw poll of my academic colleagues and contacts showed that most had little knowing involvement with externally proofread theses. It can’t necessarily be assumed, however, that students were not availing themselves of outside services, only that they weren’t consulting with their academic supervisors about doing so.
Indeed, without clear guidelines and fully resourced practice much of the work of helping students improve their written English falls to academic supervisors, whose workloads have increased exponentially over the last few years. In the good old days, when academic routine generally included time for coffee and the broadsheets in the Senior Common Room, written English coaching was generally handled informally and could be passed down the line to keen junior (not infrequently female) members of staff.
It is rare these days that even the most dedicated supervisor has the time to work closely with a student, instructing on the written presentation of research. Dedicated study skills departments have filled some of this gap. Many universities provide high-quality ESL training that aims to equip students with the English language skills they need, but comparatively few have clear written policies or guidelines about proofreading.
A member of staff in one ESL department (in a university with no written guidelines or policy in this area) described to me how regularly they fend off requests from students to proofread or edit their work.
It’s not uncommon for UK PhD regulations to contain a statement such as this: “The thesis shall include a statement declaring the work to be the candidate’s own and acknowledging any assistance received” (University of Westminster Regulations, 14.3) but such provisions are generally aimed at situations such as in the sciences where a student’s PhD research forms part of a larger collaborative project.
Often general guidelines to students seek to remind them of the importance of error checking in the final stages of thesis preparation; for example, this from Reading University: “… leave yourself enough time to have a final read through of your dissertation to pick up any lingering mistakes or typos”.
It all sounds so easy. Or this from Birkbeck, apparently drafted with input from exasperated PhD examiners: “You must make every effort to correct errors before submission. It is not the task of examiners to act as editors and/or proof-readers [sic] of a thesis.”
Essentially, of course, a PhD thesis or Master’s dissertation is a form of examination and as such should be the student’s own work. At University College London the plagiarism regulations state that “Recourse to the services of … outside word-processing agencies which offer correction/improvement of English is strictly forbidden” (also quoted in M. Macdonald, EM, Jan/Feb 2008).
However, the situation varies, even within different colleges of London University. Currently (2012) the LSE issues guidance on students’ use of professional proofreading services, which is explicit and brief (see LSE). The key section states that a third-party external editor or proofreader cannot be used to develop ideas and arguments, to trim an over-long thesis to regulation length, to help with referencing or correct information, or to translate the thesis into English. What is permissible is for a proofreader to correct spelling and punctuation, to ensure correct grammar and syntax, to clarify the writing, for example by shortening sentences and changing to the active voice, to format footnotes and endnotes, and to make headings and page numbers consistent.
These guidelines do permit online proofreading using tracked changes, but require that the student be responsible for reviewing and accepting changes.
In the present situation, this sort of effort to render transparent the proofreading/editorial help received seems the most enlightened for all parties: students seeking to produce the best thesis they can, universities seeking to maintain academic quality and a good student experience, and proofreaders and editors seeking to earn a crust but also to maintain professional integrity and standards.
Current advice and moving forward ...
Professional organizations can also play a key role. The SfEP, for example, has a comprehensive published booklet (Proofreading Theses and Dissertations), aimed principally at members but more widely available. Excellent articles have also appeared in the society’s magazine, Editing Matters.
More, however, could be done, even though this would mean more work for the organization and its officers. Universities have departments that focus on study and research skills and also on supporting international students.
Making direct contact with such departments and encouraging them to have a direct link from their own web pages to a page on the SfEP website specifically addressed to dissertation/thesis writers would (a) promote the advantages to students in using the editing services of SfEP members and (b) provide useful information for students, supervisors and examiners about what SfEP proofreaders/editors expect from student authors.
Ultimately, spreading the kind of good practice adopted at LSE or working towards the kind of editing standards adopted in Australia would seem the most intelligent and practical way to manage this growing trend.
My thanks are due to Patrick McMahon, Judith Rowbotham, Mandy MacDonald, Louise Harnby, and to the collective wisdom of SfEP members on their discussion board.
Copyright Shani D’Cruze 2012
About Shani: After more than fifteen years as an academic historian in UK universities, Shani D'Cruze moved to Crete where she combines olive-farming with research and writing, editing, and copy-editing. View her LinkedIn profile.
A note from Louise: I’m very pleased to welcome my colleague Kate Haigh to the Parlour. Kate is an editor and proofreader based in the UK who works extensively with non-publisher clients. Kate’s agreed to talk to me about one particular segment of her portfolio, the business client.
Louise Harnby: Welcome, Kate. And thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us. My own client base is very much based in the publishing house sector, so I’m keen to get a sense of how things differ when working with a business client. First of all, can you tell us what kinds of material your clients ask you to work on?
Kate Haigh: Hi and thanks for inviting me to participate in this and give my views on working for business clients. I would like to start by highlighting that my experiences may differ significantly from other people’s as the scope of non-publishing work is so broad; different people may have different USPs or ways of approaching these clients. On the whole, though, I tend to work on three main types of material – websites, reports and marketing material. Different clients tend to use me for different services, i.e. I have one client for whom I solely proofread the website, whereas another regularly sends me reports but no web or advertising work. It means the work is very varied, which in my opinion is a bonus, and also means I learn a lot of random things.
LH: And are you editing, proofreading, writing, or a little bit of all three? And how do you think the job differs from work with other types of client (publishers, self-publishing authors or students for example)? Are the requirements different and, following on from this, does your method/approach vary accordingly?
KH: To be honest, it depends on the client. Some of them aren’t native speakers/writers so I edit quite heavily and am given free rein, while others just want me to tidy up documents and ensure consistency. The lines are more blurred between proofreading and copy-editing, especially as almost all of the work is done on-screen – it doesn’t tend to have pagination issues or print deadlines in the same way that book or magazine work may have. I don’t have the same level of querying as I do for self-publishers or students; most business material is black and white with limited grey areas. I may query something occasionally but it’s usually a content issue; the client handles the query internally so I don’t deal with it any further.
LH: When proofreading for academic publishers, I’m given a very clear brief and a house style guide. Is it different with corporate clients? Is this something you have to work with them to establish when you first make contact? In other words, is the brief a more dynamic affair that evolves as the work proceeds or are the clients clear from the outset what they want from you?
KH: Again, it can depend on the client. Some have style guides in place, others ask me to create one and then implement it, while others are only concerned with consistency in the one document I am working on at that time. On the whole, the brief is clear, though, and I know the level of input I can make, though I guess that comes with experience for each client. One client recently sent a document that was theoretically in the final print stage so we agreed I would only make essential amendments; in future I will see the work earlier and they want me to make stylistic changes and copy-edit the document as I see fit.
I think overall the issue is more fluid, and definitely more so than with academic and non-fiction publishing, where there tend to be so many rules. For clients who are new to using a proofreader or editor, I can play a big role in shaping my job and their expectations, which I personally enjoy. However, if you’re keen to be told what to do or have a set function to follow, this type of work may not be quite so suitable.
LH: The editorial function is an established part of the process in most traditional publishing houses. Unless a press is a small, independent publisher that has to handle all of its editorial work in-house (for economic reasons), it’s not difficult to persuade them that our services are of value. I've tended to assume this isn’t the case in the business market. Do you actively market yourself to this type of client, do they come to you? Regarding either option, what are your most effective marketing outlets?
KH: I find that businesses with active marketing departments are often already aware of the benefits of proofreading but no longer have capacity in-house (horrible to admit but the recession served me well there), so they come looking or just need a tiny nudge to make them aware of my existence. I got totally lucky with my first and most repeat client – I met a PA at a training event about writing copy for the web; she ended up giving me a lift home, took my card and passed it to the marketing manager. The rest, as they say, is history. Other companies looked for me, and thanks to my website, the SfEP directory and other online presence, I appear to be relatively easy to find.
The best marketing I have actively done has been local networking. Some businesses have then found out about proofreading and asked me to work with them as they never even knew such people existed, while word-of-mouth from those events has served me brilliantly. It takes time to reap rewards with networking, at least it did for me, but has been invaluable in the longer term. It’s the face-to-face element that works, and the rapport you build over regular breakfast meetings at some ungodly hour. On the whole, I don’t think the clients I met at networks would have responded to a cold call/email but over time they get to know you and trust you – that’s what leads to the work.
I also think that for business clients, a website is essential, not just for enabling people to find you but also for adding integrity and a professional look. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who claim to be proofreaders when perhaps they’re not qualified for the job, so having a website with information about you, testimonials, contact details, etc. really helps a client to relate. I guess that links in with the face-to-face element of networking.
LH: Do you mind talking to us about the rates of pay? I’ve blogged about the different rates of pay within the publisher sector, and how the suggested minimum rates (as defined by the SfEP) aren’t always in line with the reality of the market place. Would you say that the corporate sector is more lucrative for editorial freelancers?
KH: For business clients, my rates are almost never lower than the SfEP guidelines so in itself that possibly makes it more lucrative than the publishing industry. I think awareness of other proofreaders is lower in the corporate world and this works in my favour. When a company has decided they have the funds and the need for a proofreader, I think they value that service highly. Also, they get used to working with you, your style, and the way you interact, so they’re less worried about squeezing every penny compared with publishers, or at least that’s my perception.
I have one or two clients who pay quite a bit more due to the heavy editing/re-writing element, or other functions, but on the whole I charge in line with the SfEP’s rates and no company has ever quibbled.
LH: If you had one piece of advice to impart about working for business clients, Kate, what would it be?
KH: Ultimately, I think people need to make a positive choice to work in business proofreading rather than seeing it as a fall-back option. I like the commercial world and what it encompasses, and find working on the associated content interesting. If, however, people are doing it because they can't get work in their chosen field, it could be very boring. This would make the job less fulfilling and the resulting loss of focus could lead to an increased error rate. Sorry if this sounds dogmatic, but it's something I feel very strongly about; being able to really focus on your clients’ materials and their particular needs is important, whichever area you’re working in.
LH: Thanks very much, Kate. I’ve found this hugely informative and I’m sure that many “newbies” and seasoned professionals working in other areas will learn a lot from your experience.
About Kate Haigh
Kate is a professional proofreader and owner of Kateproof. Feel free to follow her on Twitter at @Kateproof or link with her via LinkedIn.
Lots of us who are self-employed editorial professionals once worked in a corporate office. Remember the bosses who seemed to think that they’d get more work out of you by browbeating you or being condescending? Those techniques were always spectacular failures, weren’t they? In our roles as consultants, we’ll get results from our authors that are just as poor if we don’t treat them respectfully and as more than just income sources.
First, we must have an excellent manuscript-side manner. It’s painful enough for authors to see that we’ve red-lined (or blue- or purple- or green-lined) the prose they worked so hard to produce. It’s worse if our queries imply that they should have known better or that they’re wasting our time or that we’re intellectually superior to them.
If you’re a parent, you’ve likely learned that you get better results when you respect your children’s feelings when you’re trying to get them to do something.
Things work the same way with authors – or with anyone, really. If you want your authors to buy into the edits you’re suggesting, you have to get into their heads and see things from their point of view, talk to them respectfully, offer solutions politely, and, whenever possible, sincerely praise things in their prose that they’ve done well.
Never, ever come across in your queries as a scolding parent or teacher.
Second, to do our best work and to keep authors coming back to us with more projects, we have to see them not as sources of money but as people with feelings and varied interests.
When authors feel that we respect their writing and the effort that it costs them, they are much more likely to not hate – and perhaps even to enjoy – working with us. I always find something to talk about with my authors, such as conferences they’re going to attend and presentations they’ve made. I congratulate them on their publishing successes and job promotions.
A large portion of my authors are physician-researchers who are non-native speakers of English trying to get their articles published in US and UK English-language medical journals.
I’ve researched the major national holidays for these authors’ cultures, and I email holiday wishes to the authors, thanking them for continuing to return to me with projects.
Every time I finish projects, I thank my authors for the privilege of reading their work, and I ask them to let me know when their work gets published so that I can congratulate them. And then I follow through.
By doing these things, I maintain a loyal clientele of more than 60 such authors from all over the world.
In short, if you follow what I call the Copyeditor’s Golden Rule – edit others as you would like to be edited – you will never lack for clients.
Copyright 2012 Katharine O’Moore-Klopf.
Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, ELS, has been in publishing for 28 years, the first 11 as a production editor for various publishers, and since then as a full-time freelance copyeditor.
She is a medical editor with a specialty in editing manuscripts written by non-native speakers of English. Her editing has helped researchers in more than 20 nations get published in more than 30 different medical journals.
She has written about editor–author relationships for the journal Science Editor and for the Copyediting newsletter.
She is also creator and curator of the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base, which is housed within her business web site. On Twitter, she is @KOKEdit.
This Spotlight features Edelweiss Arnold, Marketing Manager at The Publishing Training Centre (PTC), a UK-based and nationally recognized training provider. Edelweiss kindly agreed to talk to me about the history of the organization, and provided insights into the PTC’s mission to help both new entrants to the field and established publishing professionals further their careers through high-quality training.
The early years…
As a former student of the PTC, when working in-house and later as a freelancer, I was keen to know a bit more about the Centre’s origins. Edelweiss started off by giving me the back story.
“The Publishing Training Centre is an educational charity that has been around for more than 30 years, and some of the best-known names in the publishing industry have attended training courses with us. We were born under the auspices of the Publishers Association (PA) and our first courses were run under their banner. Sir Stanley Unwin’s charitable trust identified the need for quality, professional training for the book and journal publishing industry, and his son, Rayner Unwin, took up the challenge. The trust bought a beautiful old building in southwest London, which was formerly the Municipal Works Offices of Wandsworth. The building was renamed Book House and a number of book-related charities moved in.
“At this time our fledgling training company was moved out of the Publishers Association and Book House Training Centre was born. The earliest courses offered were intensive programmes for copy-editors and commissioning staff. In the late 1990s, Book House Training Centre was renamed The Publishing Training Centre.”
Training today – in the classroom and beyond…
I then asked Edelweiss about the PTC’s current training programme. In a previous post on this blog, "Does Training Matter? What Publishers Say about Proofreading & Editing Courses", I interviewed a number of publishers specifically to find out what they considered to be the preferred editorial training courses in the UK. The PTC came up time and again as one of the most trusted UK external providers. So, more broadly, what’s on offer?
Says Edelweiss, “Today we offer more than 50 classroom-based publishing related courses, in subjects such as editing, strategy, digital publishing, e-learning and more. We also offer in-house training in these areas for companies wishing to train a number of staff members at the same time. In 1992 we started our distance learning operation.”
Classroom-based training doesn’t suit everyone, particularly if you don’t live locally and have professional and personal demands on your time. Some people may worry that an intensive short course may not give them the time to absorb all the material. They may also want to study in their own time, with the assurance that the training is going to prepare them for the market. I wanted to know what the PTC’s distance learning courses offer for the fledgling editorial freelancer beyond the classroom programme.
“The distance learning courses are designed not only to give students a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter, but also to prepare them to take on work on a freelance basis,” explained Edelweiss. “The courses are assessed and certificated, and they count towards accreditation from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). Our distance learning programmes are evaluated via the Publishing Qualifications Board, a subsidiary of The Publishing Training Centre that was set up to provide assessed qualifications in publishing skills.
“The courses are intensive and require commitment from students – and the assessment is rigorous. We want to ensure that every student who has passed one of our distance learning courses can legitimately say that they are ready to take on work for paying customers because they can do the job well and they have the commitment required of freelance workers.”
Distance learning courses…
So what does this particular training provider have to offer for students looking to pursue the distance-learning option? “Our courses include Basic Proofreading, Copy-Editing, Editorial Project Management, Picture Research and Successful Editorial Freelancing, a course where the assignment allows you to create a business plan and have it assessed by a business consultant. We also have two online programmes, one in grammar (Grammar at Work) and Understanding Book Publishing, which will be very helpful to those wishing to break into the publishing industry.”
An important issue for many students undertaking any sort of training is the reputation of the provider. As the conversation wrapped up, Edelweiss emphasized the importance that the PTC places on its professional links to the publishing industry and how these impact on students: “Our reputation as the foremost trainer of publishers in this country also means that our alumni have a qualification that will be recognized by clients they approach within the industry. We also have very close ties to the SfEP, the PA and the IPG (Independent Publishers Guild) and we are involved in Skillset’s current project to update the National Occupational Standards for the publishing industry.
“For more information you can visit our website at www.train4publishing.co.uk, and we would love it if you joined the discussion on our new forum!”
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.
In the martial art of Taekwondo, one of the life skills taught is perseverance. Thirty-seven years out of 48 amounts to roughly three-quarters of my life, so I would say that qualifies. I was a writer (by definition of character) since before I learned to form my first letter of the alphabet, but it was when I was 11 that I decided to write a novel and, indeed, had started several over the next few years.
In my childhood, not only was there no Internet, but there were no writing camps, courses, or support for young writers—at least, not in any form that was accessible to me.
With little experience and no connections, I wrote anyway, completely on my own, because I couldn't not write. I figured out the mechanics of dialogue and punctuation by examining books, and I was a closet editor.
But, as you can imagine, writing was just a frill—not a lucrative way to make a living. So I got a “real” life: went to real school, had a real family, and worked real jobs—and took a hiatus from writing for over 20 years because, honestly, who had time for that kind of luxury?
Except one day, in a new age, I discovered online courses that offered writing instruction. It was late 2005 or early 2006. And I began to learn to write.
In July 2006, I conceived my current story, BEYOND THE PRECIPICE. In the years that followed, as my novel wove itself together, my life unravelled at the same rate. And I discovered this: The worse my life got, the better my writing became. I couldn't lose!
BEYOND THE PRECIPICE came about simply because I wanted to write a novel and I had a protagonist. All my life I had one protagonist or another who worked through life’s issues, and I spent my high school and university years observing people, studying natural dialogue, and—yes—jotting down ideas on napkins in the school cafeteria. Inspired by the writing courses I took in 2006, and realizing at this stage in my life that sacrificing writing had brought me absolutely nothing, I took up writing with renewed commitment. At the Edmonton International Fringe Festival in August 2006 (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), a musician ignited my central idea for BEYOND THE PRECIPICE, at that time still untitled. But, as time went on, I incorporated a number of messages I had about the complex world of family dynamics, unconditional love, aspirations of kids as they grow into adults, human error, guilt, and forgiveness. BEYOND THE PRECIPICE became the book’s title, which had a meaning both physical and metaphorical. The novel also unveils the unfortunate reality of how money determines whether a young person disappears into obscurity or goes on to live a full, successful life—and that sometimes we simply can’t do it on our own; we need the help of others who believe in us.
In the first half of 2009, I designated myself a writer. Not an employee who writes at night. Not an entrepreneur who provides a range of services. A writer by profession. With that new mindset, I published four articles in a career training institute newsletter by 2010. At night, I wrote the novel.
But life became the very Catch-22 I had tried to avoid, with my energies spread in all directions and, specifically, out of the office. What I really wanted to do, once again, came last, late at night after work—unpaid, as one year stretched into another, which stretched into the next. Until I sold my writing, I would not have time to write.
There was so much to learn about blogging, social media, websites, publishing, and how the craft of writing was changing—and the changes were accelerating. My dream was like a beach ball on the waves, always dashing out from under my hand just as I thought I had it in my grasp. I knew that no matter how hard I worked “after hours,” it was not enough time. And after years of working through every evening, weekend, and holiday, I was burning out.
But, not able to leave well enough alone, I was going to finish the novel that churned inside me, and send that, along with my magazine articles, out to publishers. This was not entirely a selfish motive. I was a single parent now, and I needed to be around for my kids.
The writer today has the best chance if he has a platform, a blog, and connects through social media such as Twitter, Facebook, or other formats. This puts a sample of his writing “out there,” and he can gain followers whose interest he has captured with his upcoming work. In essence, he has to be involved in his own promotion, and this starts before he ever submits the book for publishing. Today, there are more publishing options than ever before, such as self-publishing and e-books, but in spite of that, paper book publishers seem to be busier than ever.
We can now connect to the world of writing in a way the writer of the past could not. Our colleagues, instructors, and publishers need not even be in the same country! Our websites, blogs, and Facebook pages reach around the globe. Organizations such as NaNoWriMo, writers’ guilds, courses, writing camps, and even personal author sites connect us to other writers, whether in our own community or farther out. As for learning what's required for a submission package, which includes a novel synopsis and query letter, a writing course can be a good first step. Submission requirements for each individual publisher are found in The Writer's Market, which is also available online, and in The Canadian Writer's Market. There are specific versions such as Novel & Short Story Writer's Market and The Best of the Magazine Markets for Writers.
For me, the next milestone is to get paid so I can continue to write, which means I have to publish my novel. I finished BEYOND THE PRECIPICE on November 13 of this year. Mine was probably the hardest, most convoluted journey, which involved external as well as internal obstacles. I only succeeded when I intended to be a writer. But the struggle to recognize the legitimacy of the writer within is not unique. Many people with whom I have spoken share a similar story. Some didn't recognize how important writing was to them until later in life. Others weren't taken seriously or didn't think they could make a career out of it. Still others were trapped in isolation until accessible inroads into the writing world developed.
For 37 years, I waited to say that I finished my first novel. If Taekwondo teaches us to persevere, then let this be a testimonial that perseverance does eventually get you there.
People must not give up their dreams. If their dreams aren't getting any closer, and it's killing them, then they need to adjust the way they do things. They need to first change their own thought patterns, intend their goal, and then change things in their environment to make the goal accessible. I know it doesn't work with everything. I have other dreams that I may never be able to fulfill. But, at least, pick one, the most important one, and follow it to the end.
Copyright 2011 Eva Blaskovic.
Eva Blaskovic is a writer/editor based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She runs a freelance business at Sirius Word Writing and Editing Solutions and was featured by Outsource Effectively in November, 2011. Her articles focus on How-to, Business, Parenting, and Travel, and she has just completed her first novel, BEYOND THE PRECIPICE. She published four articles in 2009–2010, including ‘Mentorship: Increasing Business Success’ and ‘What to Expect From, and How to Work With, Your Writer or Editor’.
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