I’m delighted to welcome my colleague Sophie Playle back to the Parlour. Sophie has been doing lots of interesting things with her editorial business so a catch-up is long overdue! I first featured her back in 2013. I was interested in learning more about the manuscript-critique service she offers because that’s a service that, as I pointed out at the time, is “about as far away from proofreading on the editorial freelancing spectrum as one can get”. You can read the original post here: Manuscript critiquing: The inside story.
Since then, Sophie has rebranded her business, branching out from editing into offering online courses. I couldn’t wait to get the low-down on these latest exciting developments, and jumped at the chance to interview her.
Sophie and I met and became friends through the Norfolk chapter of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. I mention this because it’s a great reminder of the benefits of meeting up on a regular basis with editorial colleagues. Many of us wear very different hats, which means there’s always something new to learn. Prior to meeting Sophie, I could wax lyrical for hours about proofreading, marketing and freelance business development; as for manuscript critique and training … well, that was quite another matter. So, hearing about these latest developments has been an education, and I’m chuffed to bits to be able to share our conversation with you …
Louise Harnby: Sophie, what made you rebrand your business?
Sophie Playle: What used to be Playle Editorial Services is now Liminal Pages. I wanted a brand that could reflect my personality and my chosen niche (speculative fiction editing) a little more. Mostly, though, I wanted to start running online courses, so the ‘Editorial Services’ bit of the original name didn’t work.
It was a little scary changing so much, but the new brand is much more aligned with my business intentions, so I felt it was the right thing to do. To me, a brand is something that should be always evolving.
LH: Tell us a bit about your first online course.
SP: Conquer Your Novel is a tutored 8-week online course designed to help writers tame their manuscripts into publishable final drafts. (Before professional editing, of course.)
There are lots of generic creative writing courses available online, so I wanted to offer something a little different. I knew from the outset that I would create a tutored course with weekly personal feedback. I also didn’t want the course to be too basic – there are plenty of beginner courses already on the market.
So I created an intermediate-level course aimed specifically at novelists. I ran it in beta in the spring, and revamped it based on the feedback.
LH: What topics do you cover?
SP: I had to think very carefully about this because I didn’t want to recreate what’s already out there. I find courses that simply run through the main elements of novel writing (character, plot, dialogue, setting, etc.) a little uninspired.
The thing is, no one writes a novel thinking about these components in isolation. They don’t work in isolation. Plot is driven by character, and setting is based around plot, and description is filtered through viewpoint character, which is determined by narrative style … and so on.
But to learn about these things, you have to start somewhere. I considered which topics were most important, which needed to go together, and what the most logical order would be. I’ve top and tailed the more traditional topics with practical discussions around the psychology and methodology of novel writing.
The first module looks at the most common reasons writers fail to complete novels, and I talk a lot about different writing personalities and approaches to the novel writing process. The last module looks at the redrafting process in detail, and also how to read analytically. A writing course on its own won’t help someone become a great writer if they don’t know how to read well!
LH: Where do you get your students?
SP: So far, my students have come largely from my mailing list – which includes past clients, writers who signed up for the freebies on my website, and other editors curious in what I do – don’t think I can’t see you, guys!
This time around, I’m also planning to run a Facebook ad and write a few guest posts … like this one. My past students are also happy to help promote the course, which is awesome. Love those guys.
I’d originally hoped the course would also be useful to editorial professionals wanting to get into fiction editing – the idea being they’d learn about the components that went into writing a good novel. One proofreader took the course when I ran it in beta and really loved it. But after refining the materials, I think the course is more useful to writers than editors.
LH: What are the logistics of running the course? How do you administer the materials?
SP: Every week, I email a PDF module with a writing assignment. Students complete the assignment by the deadline, and I provide them with feedback.
There’s also a Workbook for students to fill out as they progress through the course. By the end of the course, this acts as an overview of the most important decisions they’ve made about the novel – such as the narrative question, the viewpoint characters, the main plot points, etc. The Workbook is just a simple Word document set up as a form so students can only type in specified areas.
On top of that, I’ve created a separate private forum – or, at least, I will have by the time this interview is published! Writing can be a lonely business, and I know from experience that peer feedback and discussion is an incredibly valuable part of a writer’s development. Originally, I used a Facebook group to host the community, but a forum more easily allows students to share their work, and I think it feels a bit more special than a Facebook group.
LH: Do you provide individual feedback, template answers, or a mixture of both?
SP: It’s all individual, personalised feedback. Students have told me that my feedback is what makes the course so valuable to them. For each assignment, I use the comments feature of Word to provide specific suggestions relating to the text, then I write a couple of paragraphs at the end of the extract. My feedback is largely based on the topic we’re discussing that week, but I also point out anything else I think could help the writer improve.
But that’s not all. At the end of the course, I provide each writer with a written summary of the best ways I think they can improve their writing in general. This, along with their Workbook and a final exercise, helps them come up with their own personalised plan of action for completing their novels after the course has come to an end.
LH: How much time does it take to administrate the course?
The most time-consuming part the course was creating the materials. It would take me approximately two days to write each module from scratch, and it took me a further three weeks or so to refine the materials since I ran it in beta.
Now I’ve created the course, I’ll spend most of my time providing student feedback. During the first running of the course, I discovered that marking time varies week to week, though I would normally spent 30–90 minutes on each assignment. I’ve decided to take on a maximum of 20 students so I can plan how to manage my time during the running of the course.
LH: Are you planning to create any more online courses?
SP: Definitely. So far, I’ve really enjoyed creating and running this one! And I have lots of ideas for new ones, but I haven’t decided which idea to go with next.
LH: What would you advise other editorial professionals considering offering online courses?
SP: Offering online courses can be a great way to add some variation to your work. It also enables you to help a larger number of clients and offer something at a different price point.
I’d recommend taking the following into consideration:
Want to earn a referral fee? Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) the names of the people you refer, and for every person who signs up and remains on the course after the two-week trial period, I will send you £25 as a thank you.
Sophie Playle is a Professional Member of the SfEP, writing teacher and steampunk airship pilot. (One of those things may be a lie.) She has an English Literature BA from UEA and a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. She’s also a published writer and was shortlisted for the 2012 Escalator Literary Prize for Fiction.
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