If you're a new proofreader or editor, having a global mindset in regard to choosing reference resources is essential for maximizing editorial business opportunities.
Like many of my fellow editorial business owners, I’m often approached by potential new entrants to the field who want advice about getting started. One of the most oft-asked questions is: ‘Which reference resources – style guides, dictionaries and the like – do I need?'
Bear in mind that anyone you seek guidance from in regard to best-fit resources must respect the fact that you might not be from the same place as them, speak like them, have the same potential clients as them, and spell colour/color like they do, or as a client brief asks them to.
Centrism, whether from the United Kingdom, the United States, or elsewhere in the world, is useless to you as a new entrant because it’s based on false assumptions about you and your potential clients.
Social science ‘styles’ from an international perspective
Here’s a wee case fictive case study. Imagine a new entrant to the editing profession tells me the following:
Based on this, I suggest that social science publishers and academics would be good initial target markets.
Does my new starter’s location affect their choice of potential publishers clients? It’s not clear cut.
The online world has knocked down those geographical boundaries; you don’t have to spend a fortune to send page proofs to someone hundreds of miles away; you can email them to someone thousands of miles away for the price of an Internet connection.
And how does my new starter’s location in the United States more broadly affect what they need to learn in terms of styles and language preferences? Again, it’s not clear cut.
I see The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) recommended as the sole must-have resource so often in online discussions about editorial work that I worry that new entrants may fall into the trap of thinking that this ‘bible’ alone will tell them everything they need to know.
Super though it is (I love chunks of it for fiction editing), CMOS is not the be all and end all of style guides, because it depends on what a client wants, the subject matter and country-specific language preferences.
The California-based publisher SAGE Publications asks that its copyeditors have a thorough knowledge of both the CMOS and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).
But note that these are core requirements for SAGE’s US book division. If you want to freelance for the US journal division, you’ll need to add the AMA Manual of Style and The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers to your reading list. (Bear in mind, too, that not all publishers want us to use the most current version of these manuals.)
But why stop there? If my new starter can get work with SAGE in California, might it not be sensible to tap its sister office in London? But in that case, our newbie will also need familiarity with New Hart’s Rules, The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, and Butcher’s Copyediting.
Or what if our new starter decides to target social science academics who are based in the US? They'll need to ask:
Actually, it’s just as likely that an eminent Boston-based scholar will submit to the European Journal of Political Research as to the American Political Science Review, Scandinavian Political Studies, or the Canadian Journal of Political Science.
This will impact on what our newbie needs to know. For example:
Location doesn’t determine readership
Where our clients live doesn’t determine where they publish or the location of their intended readership.
Given that the editorial freelancing market is competitive, it makes sense to exploit the most obvious opportunities.
In the Internet Age, the physical barriers are gone. The only barrier to exploring an international work stream is an inability to appreciate that language conventions and preferences differ according to client (whether that be a particular publisher, a particular independent author, a particular journal), not according to one, and only one, globally recognized set of rules.
Honestly – such a thing doesn’t exist; it doesn’t even exist within many countries.
Diversity of geography, language, and preferences
It’s not so much about where we live, but where our clients live and what preferences they have.
If you're a new entrant to the field and are wondering what you need to know, instead of listening to my preferences, familiarize yourself with a number of appropriate resources depending on what your clients want.
Perhaps it’s CMOS; perhaps it’s not. And even if it is, ONLY knowing this could mean you're seriously restricting the base of clients for whom you can work, the types of material you can work on, and the geographical locations you can explore.
So try the following:
If your world revolves around CMOS, it’s possibly a smaller world than it needs to be. And if your world is smaller than it needs to be, so are the opportunities you're exploring in a market that’s already very competitive.
One other item to note. CMOS, CSE, APA, AMA, and the like are style guides; they give you guidance on whether, for example, to close up or hyphenate a compound adjective. They won't necessarily give you extensive guidance on how a word is being used, and whether that usage is considered standard, and in which community.
Usage manuals, which give that kind of information, are as important as style guides. Using a style guide or a usage manual alone is an invitation to disaster.
Out with borders and in with flexibility
When you’re the owner of an editorial business you need to learn what your clients want you to learn, whether it’s a manual published by Chicago or Oxford, a house brief designed by a team of publisher project managers, a detailed set of guidelines issued by a European NGO, or a short brief issued by an independent author of fiction.
I encourage you to think broadly, globally, and flexibly. If someone tries to guide to towards only one set of ‘rules’, at best their advice will restrict you; at worst it will be just plain wrong or inappropriate.
There is, alas, no simple answer to the question of which resources are best. Instead, careful thought and planning centred around client- and skill-focused research is a good first step. That way, you’ll learn for yourself what resources, tools, and knowledge bases are suitable for you, your potential market, and your particular business model.
Language usage, styles, and preferences differ – and that’s okay. Don’t let anyone tell you that’s not the case!
Louise Harnby is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in working with independent authors of commercial fiction, particularly crime, thriller and mystery writers.
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and an Associate Member of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA).
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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