This week I'm delighted to have a guest post for you, written by Louise Harnby.
Louise is a highly experienced fiction editor and proofreader, and she has just won the Judith Butcher Award from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) for 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.
As editing fiction is not my specialist area, I've gone straight to the top and got the best advice for you. If you're beavering away on your novel and wondering whether you need editing, or if proofreading will be enough, you need to read this.
Over to you, Louise.
Fiction writers have budgets. Deciding how best to invest that editorial budget can be tricky for the novice self-publisher, especially if they’re not familiar with publishing-industry conventions, reader expectations, and the editorial process.
Today, I’m exploring which levels of editing are required for the independent fiction writer preparing a novel for market – in particular whether proofreading is required and if it’s enough.
Here’s a speed guide to the different levels of fiction editing to help you make informed decisions about what you might need.
Stage 1: Developmental editing (also called structural, content and substantive editing). This is the big-picture stuff – plot, pace, characterization, narrative point of view, narrative flow, and audience relevance.
Stage 2: Line editing. This is sentence-level smoothing that focuses on clarity, readability, flow, structure, and phrasing that’s respectful of narrative and character voice.
Stage 3: Copy-editing. This is sentence-level correction that attends to consistent and correct spelling, punctuation and grammar, within a framework of accepted/preferred idiomatic and regional variations.
Stage 4: Proofreading. This is the final prepublication quality-control check that looks for minor omissions in the previous rounds of editing, and ensures that the various elements of the book are designed consistently and according to the brief and industry-standard conventions.
I believe it’s possible to do stages 2 and 3 together but that 1 and 4 are separate passes. I do know a few editors who offer 1, 2 and 3 simultaneously. However, I know of no editorial professional who states they can proofread at the same time as carrying out the other levels of editing and that the book will be ready for publication when they’re done.
Your plot pops, but your sentences suck and your punctuation poops. If that’s you, you’ve nailed the developmental work. So do you need a line editor, copyeditor or proofreader?
Hugh Howey is a great self-editor though even he now uses a pro to help polish his prose. In ‘A question about editing’ (The Wayfarer, 2015), he states, ‘[T]he primary onus is certainly on the writer. They should have respect for what they’re doing. But if I had to pick between a great storyteller who lacked precision of language and a perfect writer with no story to tell, I’d take the former every single time. We teach too much prose to writers and not enough plot. Plot is king. Prose is pawn.’
I genuinely love Howey’s support for the indie fiction author’s right to write. I respect the fact that he chooses ‘to fall in with a slightly different step and enjoy the diversity of experience’ and not get ‘hung up on discrepancies of spelling and punctuation (which used to abound), but allowing the words, in all their variability, to form pictures in our heads’.
Back to the question: even though you’ve nailed the plot, do you need a line editor, copyeditor or proofreader? I think it’s the wrong question. Instead, the self-publishing fiction writer needs to ask the following: How does your reader dance?
Howey acknowledges that many readers ‘expect perfection. Not a hiss or pop of static or a missed note’.
If your book is flailing at sentence level and your readers are Howey dancers, you’ll be okay. If they’re not dancing to his tune (‘No way!’) – and even he thinks most aren’t – you’ll need to make an informed choice about what you’ll get help with and what you’ll do yourself.
Imagine you’ve written your first novel. Remember: your plot pops, but your sentences suck and your punctuation poops.
Reader 1 buys it. They do the Howey dance. And because they love it, you haven’t just acquired a customer with that sale; you’ve acquired a fan who’s bought that book and is in the mindset to buy every book you will ever write.
Reader 2 buys it. They do the no-way dance. They’re frustrated because they’ve noticed problems – spelling, punctuation and grammar errors and inconsistencies; repetitive and awkward sentence structure; and inconsistent layout.
They loved the idea of your book and you nearly had them; they could have been a fan but now they’re a grumpy customer who leaves a crabby review and ditches you. One sale and then it’s crickets.
Even with your popping plot, the proofreader is tasked with an impossible job if they’re presented with a file that hasn’t been through stages 2 and 3 (line and copy-editing). If a paragraph needs work to make it readable, it’s not quality control that’s required but a deeper level of editing. Proofreading won’t fix the problems.
If you’re happy for your proofreader to do the best they can within the agreed budget and a proofreader’s remit, you’ll both come out of the experience satisfied. Your no-way readers still won’t be happy, but if that’s the way you’ve chosen to dance, so be it.
If, however, you want the no-ways on side, you’ll need a magician proofreader – someone who can pull line and copy-editing skills out of a hat along with the rabbit.
You might get lucky. Your proofreader might well have those additional skills. But even if they have, they won’t be able to complete those extra levels of editing simultaneously. Even if they could, it would take much, much longer and would cost a great deal more.
Most importantly, if they were to do those three editorial passes at the same time under the rubric of proofreading, they would NOT catch everything. I guarantee it. That’s why the mainstream publishing industry takes its books through different stages of editing – publishers know that just a proofread will not be enough to achieve the desired quality.
If you decide not to commission professional sentence-level editing for your novel, that’s your choice. I believe you still have the absolute right to publish; there’s something rather wonderful about Howey’s approach of the storyteller trumping the stickler. The important thing to remember is that not all your readers will be Howeys.
If you decide to tackle the sentence-level work but hire only a proofreader, be sure to go in with your eyes open and with respectful expectations of what’s achievable in one pass.
Whether you choose to dance to the tune of the Howeys or the no-ways, I wish you the very best of luck on your self-publishing journey!
Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour, Louise’s Writing Library, 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.
I hope you enjoyed Louise's valuable insights. Why not share your thoughts in the comments?
For my take on language and writing, and general musings on working for yourself, why not sign up to hear about updates to my blog?
As a thank you, you'll get a copy of my free ebook, Creating Your Style Sheet, to help you be more consistent in your writing.
I looked at the first half of the alphabet, from Apostrophes to Method, in Part One of this article – if you missed it, why not hop over and take a look?
Here I run through the second half, from Numbers to Zzz, so come on – join me in my alphabetical journey!
N is for …
Numbers. Check that you have been consistent in how you treat numbers across all your written copy. This includes dates, times and percentages. A common convention is to write out numbers one to ten, and then use figures for 11 upwards, except at the beginning of a sentence, when it's always advisable to spell them out.
As there are no hard and fast rules about dates and times, the important thing is to be consistent; for example, you might decide to always write dates with the day first, then the month and full year: 12 June 2017. It's more common nowadays to write the day without the -st, -nd, -rd or -th.
The same consistency applies to time: Have you used 12-hour or 24-hour clock? Are you using a.m. and p.m., or not?
This is when you should be checking what you've written against your style sheet. Don't know what a style sheet is? Look below, under S, for an explanation and how to get my free guide to creating your own.
O is for …
Out loud. It's always helpful to read out what you've written – it's surprising what you will pick up. Not only will you discover missing or repeated words, you'll pick up bigger issues, such as where a sentence is too long or convoluted (or isn't actually a sentence at all), or where you've started a train of thought but somehow lost the thread halfway through a paragraph.
Just be considerate if you share an office! You could always use a text-to-speech program, such as the Speak feature in Word, and wear headphones.
Outside help. There are several reasons why you might benefit from bringing in someone to edit your writing. It may be that spelling and grammar aren't your strengths, or that you don't have time to do more than get down the bare bones of an article. My article Why your business needs an editor or proofreader, goes into more detail about the different types of help you can get.
P is for …
Punctuation. It's easy to skip the nitty gritty of correct punctuation when you're in the zone and the words are flowing. Which is absolutely fine. Just don't forget to check it carefully once you're done.
Have you started each sentence with a capital letter and finished with a full stop? It sounds too basic to mention, and I wouldn't if it wasn't something that I find myself correcting regularly. Do your questions actually have question marks? You'd be surprised how often they get left off.
If you're hazy on the correct use of colons, semicolons, apostrophes and ellipses, there is plenty of online help available, such as Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips, and I also recommend The Penguin Guide to Punctuation as being particularly user friendly.
Point size. If you increase the point size of the text you're checking, this will force some words onto the next line and reflow the text, giving it a different look, making it feel 'fresh' to your brain. Because the words are in a different position on the page, your brain sees it as a new text and you'll be more likely to catch errors.
Once you're happy that you've caught everything, you can change the text back to your preferred point size. Altering the font has a similar effect – why not try changing both for a double whammy of freshness?
Q is for …
Quotes. If you have quoted someone, check that you've got the wording correct – don't rely on your memory – and make sure you've put it inside quote marks. In British English, the convention is to use single quote marks, and double quote marks for quotes inside quotes: Denise said, 'Overusing "scare quotes" is very annoying.'
Longer quotations which are displayed as a separate feature don't need quote marks, and don't forget to credit the source immediately beneath it.
R is for …
Ruler. Using a ruler below the line you're reading when proofreading on hard copy is a useful way of forcing you to slow down and not skim through too quickly. It blocks what is coming next, so your brain can't anticipate what words will follow and trick you into assuming that all the words are there and in the correct order!
References. If you've written a report or article which has references, checking them should be done as a completely separate task. You need to make sure that every reference cited in the text is in the reference list and, conversely, that everything in the reference list has actually been mentioned in the text. It's surprising how often this doesn't happen, usually because of sections being cut, or added later.
Once you've established that everything is present, check the actual references themselves to make sure they are all presented in the same way. There are many different referencing styles and conventions, depending on which field you are writing in, so make sure you know what is appropriate. If you have a lot of references and aren't sure how to handle them, this is definitely an area where I would recommend you get professional help.
Remember, the purpose of a reference is to provide all the information the reader needs to find the source easily.
S is for …
Style sheet. A style sheet is your best friend for maintaining consistency across all your written content, whether that's your website, your marketing copy or your annual report.
Decisions about how you capitalise, spell and hyphenate specific words, how you use numbers, and even which words are preferred or to be avoided, are all recorded on your style sheet.
Everyone who writes for your company should be using your style sheet – have you created one yet? If not, grab a copy of my free guide, Creating Your Style Sheet.
Spell checkers. Don't forget to run your spell checker, but please don't take everything it suggests as gospel. There are plenty of occasions when Word simply gets it wrong. However, it is useful for picking up typos and some grammatical errors, but it won't catch everything.
For example, remember that it won't know whether a word has been used correctly, only that it's been spelled correctly, regardless of the context.
T is for …
Time. Wherever possible, give yourself enough time to write without the pressure of staring down a deadline, enough time to leave what you've written to give yourself some distance from it, and enough time to do a thorough check before publishing.
Of course, this is the real world that we live in, and time often feels like a luxury that's in short supply. However, giving yourself enough time at each step in the process will greatly improve the quality of your writing. When we are rushed and under pressure we can be blind to the most obvious of errors, which unfortunately can be blindingly obvious to the first person who reads your text after it has been published.
U is for …
Underlining. Avoid using underlining in headings, or for emphasis. This is an old-fashioned style which is a hangover from the days when typewriters didn't have an italic or bold function. It makes the text harder to read and can also be confusing in digital formats, as underlining is generally reserved for indicating hyperlinks. Butterick's Practical Typography's entry for underlining has the subtitle 'Absolutely not'.
V is for …
Voice. Does what you've written sound like you? If you lack confidence in your writing, or you aren't clear about who your audience is, you can fall into an overly formal, stilted tone. This can be – whisper it – deadly dull. Boring. Bland. And guaranteed to have your reader clicking away to another website or dropping your brochure in the recycling bin.
It's OK to sound like a real person when you write. Think about who you're writing for, and when you're reviewing be ruthless in getting rid of puffy, overblown, unnecessary wordiness.
W is for …
Worry. However much I want you to have perfect prose, I don't want you to worry about it so much that you end up not publishing. Fear of making mistakes, or having them pointed out in public, is a big barrier to so many people who want to write, which I cover in my article Seven problems when starting a blog and how to solve them.
Write, review and publish. Be brave. Don't worry about any typos you may have overlooked –everyone does it and it's not the end of the world. I'd rather read your interesting, funny, entertaining or thought-provoking article complete with a couple of typos or grammatical errors than anything which is grammatically correct but dull as dishwater.
And the Grammar Police? Ignore them. They're often wrong, anyway. Nice people draw your attention to errors in private, not in public, as my article Why the Grammar Police aren't cool explains.
X is for …
X-rated. Oh, my! Is that a sweary word I see? Think very hard before using potentially offensive language in your writing. For some brands, and some demographics, it can be OK to sprinkle your copy with varying degrees of sweariness, and even drop the occasional f-bomb, but you have to judge that one extremely carefully, because you will offend people. Does it fit with your or your company's image? More importantly, are you doing it to grab attention (a really bad idea), or because it's who you are and you want to be authentic in how you present yourself to the world?
I wrote about editing swearing earlier this year. I don't generally swear in my own writing, but I've no problem editing other people's – what do you think about it?
Y is for …
Yellow highlighting. OK so this is a bit of a stretch for Y! (if you have a better idea I'd love to hear it!)
Here's an example for you. You're taking a pass through your writing to check the headings and captions, and you notice a clumsy sentence or a fact you want to double check. Rather than stopping to deal with that issue, quickly highlight the text and move on. Of course, you don't have to use yellow!
It's important to stay in the zone for the type of check you're doing at that point and not be distracted by things you should check on another pass.
Highlighting saves you from dealing with it now, or trying to remember to go back to it later. You can do a separate pass to deal with all the highlights at the end, tying up all the loose ends.
Z is for …
Zzz. Is what you've written actually interesting? Does it hold your attention? Are you excited to read it? If not, why are you publishing it? If it doesn't do any of these things, and you're the author, how can you expect it to grab your reader's attention, never mind inspire them to act on what they've read?
You're writing doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be good enough. And not good enough in a Meh, that'll do, it's kinda OK and at least I've written something way. But good enough in an I know it's not perfect but I've got this great idea and I want to share it way.
And finally, my favourite keyboard shortcut, the editor's friend:
CTRL+Z. This lifesaver is the shortcut for 'undo'. If you meant to delete a word but accidentally deleted an entire paragraph – or the entire document (Oh yes, I've done that before now) – then this two-keystroke move makes everything OK again. Crisis averted. Sanity restored. Although maybe you need some chocolate. You know, for the shock of the near miss. Never a bad idea.
So there you have it. Part Two of my alphabetical journey through editing and proofreading. Have you found it useful? Did you learn something new that you plan on trying out? Let me know in the comments – I'd love to hear what works for you.
How to proofread your own writing: ten tips to clean up your writing
How to proofread your dissertation or thesis - 12 essential tips
Do I need a proofreader or a copy-editor?
Why your business needs an editor or proofreader
Seven spelling errors and how to fix them
For my take on language and writing, and general musings on working for yourself, why not sign up to hear about updates to my blog?
There's a lot to think about when you edit your own writing — much more than just looking for typos. So here's a run-down of some of the key things to think about when you're editing and techniques to help you take a methodical approach to proofreading your writing.
We're going in alphabetical order, and in this part we'll cover Apostrophes to Method.
A is for …
Be aware that Word and some social media platforms 'helpfully' use their autocorrect and predictive text capabilities to alter what you type to what they think is correct. Believe me, they are often wrong, especially with apostrophes. So check carefully!
Acronyms. If you use acronyms, abbreviations or initialisms in your writing (see How to proofread your dissertation or thesis for more detail on the differences), will your reader know what you mean? It's always a good idea to write out the term in full with the acronym in brackets on first use, e.g. Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Of course, this isn't necessary with everyday acronyms which people will recognise, for example BBC, or if you're writing for your peers or colleagues and you can be confident everyone understands them, as they can be a useful shorthand.
Audience. Who is your audience? Have you got the right tone for them in your writing? Be helpful without being patronising. You're not writing to show off how much you know, you're writing to be helpful and engaging.
B is for …
Bullet points . If you have long lists of information, consider setting them as bulleted lists, which are a great way to break up the text and make it easier to read. They also add variety and interest to the page. Just make sure you punctuate them consistently.
Bad breaks. When a word can't fit at the end of a line, your word processing program may create a break using a hyphen. This can lead to splits which are misleading or unfortunate, e.g. deci-sion, coop-erate, physiothe-rapist. You can either switch off hyphenation altogether or you can leave it on (to avoid big gaps in the text if you're using a justified layout) and check each one carefully. Manually change the hyphenation of an individual word if needed.
Backwards. Reading your copy from the end to the beginning makes you focus at word level to pick up typos and missing or extra words. It's a handy technique that stops you skimming ahead and reading what you 'think' is there rather than what is actually on the page.
C is for …
Capitals. Overuse of capitals for job titles, products and services makes your writing look fussy and self-important. If you are a sales and marketing manager selling useful widgets, there's no need to write Sales and Marketing Manager Selling Useful Widgets.
Commas. These little marks are the cause of much debate, as often their use can come down to preference rather than hard and fast rules. Using too many can break up the flow of your writing. If you think you need all those commas then your sentence is probably too long and should be broken down into easier-to-digest shorter sentences.
For a very readable reference on punctuation in general, and a clear explanation of comma use in particular, The Penguin Guide to Punctuation by R L Trask is never far from my side.
Copyright/credit. If you use images please check whether they are subject to copyright and credit them accordingly. Artists deserve to be paid and credited for their work. If you can't afford to pay there are plenty of sites which offer free images. My friend Col Gray, a brand designer at Pixels Ink, lists 35 free stock photography websites on his blog.
D is for …
Dashes. Learn the difference between a hyphen and a dash. Hyphens are short (-) and join words or prefixes together, such as non-negotiable or light-blue dress. Dashes (—) are longer and are used in pairs for interruptions in a sentence — like this — or in ranges. For example, pp. 25—35, meaning 'from page 25 to page 35' or Glasgow—London train service, meaning 'between Glasgow and London'.
You can create a dash using the keyboard shortcut CTRL + numeric minus if you have a numeric pad on your keyboard. Otherwise you can use Insert | Symbol | More symbols | Special characters | En dash. Which is a bit of a pain, so best to create your own keyboard shortcut!
E is for …
Ellipsis. The ellipsis is a handy wee character indicating a trailing off or a gap. It only ever consists of three dots (…). Never four, or five … or twelve! (You may sometimes see what looks like a four dot ellipisis where a style guide dictates it is followed by a full stop.)
In Word you can use the keyboard shortcut CTRL + ALT + FULL STOP to create the character. There is more detail about the ellipsis in my blog What is an ellipsis?
So remember — three dots and no more!
F is for …
Fonts. Is your chosen font legible for the medium your content will be published in? If you're writing web copy or a blog, make sure it's easy to read on mobile devices — don't forget that much content is read on phones or tablets these days. The font should be clear and the point size should be big enough to read on a small screen. Remember that content in boxes or sidebars may look fine on your desktop but be impossible to make out on a smartphone.
Fresh eyes. Leave some time between writing your copy and revising it. When you come to look at it again you're much more likely to catch mistakes than if you try to edit immediately after writing.
G is for …
Grammar. Good grammar doesn't come easily to everyone, so if you know you struggle with grammar ask someone else to check what you've written. You want to avoid making obvious errors that will jump out at your readers.
For simple online help, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips has an answer for everything!
H is for …
Headings. If you've written a long article, have you used headings to break it up? A long, unbroken text can be off-putting to many readers, so use headings to help people navigate your content. Don't forget that they may not want to read everything you've written and might prefer to skim through until a relevant section catches their eye.
Check that your headings are all styled the same way, either sentence case, like the title of this blog, The A—Z of editing and proofreading your writing, or in title case: The A—Z of Editing and Proofreading Your Writing. Avoid all capitals because it's shouty, and no one likes a shouty person!
Hard copy. You might find that by printing out your writing and reading it on paper you can catch more errors. Some editors and proofreaders still prefer to work this way. Just don't forget to do something kind for the planet to make up for the trees you're using!
I is for …
Italics. It's preferable to use italics for emphasis rather than SHOUTY CAPITALS, but use them sparingly as large blocks of italic are difficult to read.
Images. Make sure that you've credited your images if required, that they're actually the correct pictures, and that they are relevant to the text. You may have chosen the perfect image initially but then cut the paragraph that it applied to, making it meaningless now.
J is for …
Jargon. If you are writing about a subject from a position of knowledge, it can be easy to casually pepper it with jargon, forgetting that your audience may not be familiar with the terms. Write for your audience, which may mean simplifying your language (without patronising, of course) and taking the time to explain concepts that seem obvious to you.
As Ann Handley, one of my favourite people and author of Everybody Writes says, 'No one will complain that you made something too simple to understand.'
K is for …
Kerning. This is a basic typography technique where the spacing between individual letters is adjusted to improve fit and legibility. It's not something you would necessarily need to do in Word, but if your copy is being designed and laid out before publication then it may come up in discussions with your designer. It's good to have some basic knowledge of these terms, so why not check out Col's video Typography Basics Explained, which explains body copy, display type, hierarchy, kerning and leading.
L is for …
Language change. It's a good idea to stay tuned in to current trends in language use. Language is fluid and meaning and usage can change, sometimes quite quickly. Be sensitive to your audience, particularly around gendered language; terms such as chairman, man hours and he/she are less favoured than chairperson, worker hours and they. Yes, singular they is acceptable, (see this article from The Washington Post) regardless of what you were taught at school, because, hey, things change.
M is for …
Method. I can't express strongly enough how important it is to be methodical in your approach to editing and proofreading your writing. Reading it through trying to catch typos, ensure consistency of style and check that it flows and makes sense all in one pass is a recipe for disaster, especially with longer articles. You will miss things.
Give yourself time to make more than one pass through the document, focusing on one aspect each time. This is far more efficient, as you'll be tuned in to, for example, checking all the headings and captions in one pass, then reading through for typos in the next. It may seem laborious, but it's actually much more effective.
So there we go — that was Part One of our A—Z. In Part Two we march on, from Numbers to Zzz. Why not take a look for some more tips and techniques? Let me know if you learned something new, or if you have your own super useful method!
For my take on language and writing, and general musings on working for yourself, why not sign up to hear about updates to my blog?
What does an editor actually do?
Ever wondered what editors actually do every day? I know that I love to take a peek behind the scenes of other people's lives – I'm always curious to know how they structure their week and what their days look like.
For me, no two weeks are the same, and my schedule is pretty flexible, but this week was busy and fun so I thought you might like to have a look at what I got up to. Let's take a peek at how it went for this editor!
9.15 a.m. I've got a busy week, with some days when I won't be able to do any client work. So, after the school run, I get my head down on a book I'm proofreading for a large educational publisher. I'm using stamps of the BSI proof-correction marks to mark up the PDF, which I don't get a chance to do too often, and I enjoy the change from the Adobe comment tools.
3.30 p.m. I work with Pam Laird, owner of Fin & Co hair salon in Carnoustie, who writes great blog posts to help people understand their hair. Today I proof-edit a new blog post and resolve some comments from the previous two I had done. We work in Google Documents, which is an easy way of collaborating on straightforward text documents like this.
4.30 p.m. I do some admin tasks: among other things I reply to an email enquiry about my availability for an upcoming project, chase a client for a purchase order number for a report I edited and issue a couple of invoices.
7.30 p.m. Social media also claims some of my time, as I reply to comments and shares of my last blog post about an editorial conference I attended on Friday.
A productive start to the week, and I feel on top of most things!
9.15 a.m. More work on the education book – I'm making good progress through it, as it's a pretty straightforward text with some references, and there are no illustrations, tables or displayed elements to check.
A conference call about a different project is rescheduled, clashing with a Skype call I had arranged with another client. Fortunately she is understanding and able to reschedule for tomorrow.
11 a.m. My accountability group has its fortnightly call today, but as one member is currently lounging about in Portugal and another has a medical appointment, we decide to cancel it. We're in regular contact through Slack, anyway, so everyone's happy to leave it until next time.
1.30 p.m. I take part in a conference call about an ongoing project. We resolve some technical issues around uploading content to the CMS (I have nothing to contribute here as there is a lot of technical chat!) and then discuss the workflow processes and how they could be streamlined. There are also some decisions to be reached with the editorial director about the content, including some additions to the evolving style guide.
3.30 p.m. I resolve some more blog post queries from Pam and chat on two Slack communities I'm part of – one editorial and one marketing.
7.30 p.m. I pop out for an interview for a volunteering role at the upcoming TEDxGlasgow. It's always oversubscribed with volunteers, so it's a bit of a lottery whether I'll be one of the lucky ones – keep your fingers crossed for me!
9.15 a.m. Today I won't get too much client work done as I'm going out to lunch. First up I have my rescheduled Skype call – this company is rebranding and wants my help to improve their web content and make it consistent. It sounds like an interesting project and I agree to get back to them with a quote once I've reviewed the existing content.
9.45 a.m. I make a start on another project, proof-editing letters of reference for students who have completed a blended learning course I've worked on – it's interesting to see how they've benefited from materials I've been involved with!
12.30 p.m. Next up, lunch with the Glasgow group of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). We meet monthly for peer support, chat and cake, but today is a social event as we have a special guest joining us. Laura Poole, an expert editor and trainer from North Carolina, was one of the headline speakers at our Scottish mini-conference last week, and we have invited her to join this month's meeting and see some of Glasgow before she heads home tomorrow.
It was great to welcome our international visitor and to meet up with my editor friends. The Glasgow group is a really important part of my working life – being around other editors helps me to remember that I'm not alone and there is support, advice and friendship out there for freelance editors (and of course our in-house colleagues are valued group members too!). I look up to many of the members who have been editors much longer than me and have so much experience and advice that they are willing to share.
4 p.m. Back home to work through some more of the letters of reference and spend a bit of time on social media, reading other editors' blogs and some articles that people have shared.
9.30 a.m. After making sure that my son gets to school in good time for his Higher English exam, my morning starts with two video calls with the Content Marketing Academy (CMA). First up is a weekly round-up call, where Chris Marr, director and founder of the CMA, chats about news, developments and wins in the membership community this week. A lot of the conversation is about CMALive, the annual conference that is now only a few weeks away. I keep my video off for this one and listen in while I clean my kitchen!
10 a.m. I'm done with cleaning in time for the next call, which is for CMA members who are taking part in a 90-day challenge, so I make some tea and switch my video on for this one. We're into week 10 and the last stretch of the challenge, which will finish just before CMALive. My challenge is to be consistent in producing useful content – one blog post a week – and make sure it is relevant, helpful and optimised for SEO and sharing.
10.30 a.m. I finish up the letters of reference and send them back to the client, who is very happy with them. There were 25 in this batch, and there are 250 altogether, so I'm glad to have made a dent in them – only 225 to go!
2 p.m. I watch part of a private webinar for CMA members. Kevin Anderson of The Story Edge talks to us about using case studies in our business. It's really interesting, but I have to leave halfway through to do that pesky school pick-up. Fortunately it's being recorded, so I can watch the replay later.
8.30 p.m. Remember what I said about having a flexible schedule? Another regular client is Caroline McKenna of Social Good HQ, who does fantastic work to support, guide and educate people working in charities and social enterprises. She gets in touch today to ask if I can do a proof-edit of a blog post with a quick turnaround – she'd like it done for tomorrow. I'm always happy to help Caroline, and I would normally do it first thing in the morning, but as I'll be out all day tomorrow I sit down for an hour in the evening and get it back to her. She's really happy with it, even though I chopped out the entire first paragraph!
5.15 a.m. What fresh hell is this? I'm not a morning person at all, but today I make a special effort. I'm interested in being a trainer for the SfEP, so I'm going to observe my colleague Lucy Metzger teach the Introduction to Proofreading course in Edinburgh. I'm just about awake enough to tweet from the taxi on the way to Queen Street. Look at the time!
Introduction to Proofreading is aimed at people who are interested in proofreading as a career and want to learn more about it and those who do some proofreading as part of their job but have had no formal training.
The course is held at the Edinburgh Training and Conference Venue, an easy walk from the station; we arrive in good time for breakfast and set up.
8.30 a.m. Before the course starts I write my biography and session summary for the SfEP annual conference in September, where I'm running a session on setting up and making the most of an accountability group.
9.15 a.m. There are eight participants on the course, all with different backgrounds and levels of experience, and the day goes well with lots of interaction, questions and chat about proofreading as a career. Lucy and I take the opportunity to promote being a member of the SfEP as a great move when starting out. Joining was one of the first things I did when I changed career and moved into editorial work, and I still say it was one of the smartest things I did!
4.45 p.m. After the course we have a well-deserved (well,I think so!) gin and tonic before getting the train home. We're so busy chatting that Lucy almost misses her stop, but she manages to get off the train in the nick of time!
9 p.m. I'm contemplating an early night (it was a very early start for me, don't forget!) when I see a message on Slack - one of the CMA members is in Glasgow for the weekend and she's wondering if anyone's around. I haven't met Rachael in real life, bit she's staying in a hotel only 15 minutes away from me, so I throw on my shoes and head off for a quick drink with her. It's always good to meet face to face with someone you've only ever known online!
1.30 p.m. Some weekends I have to work, especially if I've had a week with a lot of time away from my desk. This happens pretty often, but I honestly don't mind as I have the privilege of choosing my own work hours - no one is telling me to work on a Saturday; it's my choice. Today I spend a few hours finishing the education book I'm proofreading, and I write this blog post!
8 p.m. Sunday evenings are when I do some planning. I write out my Bullet Journal planner for the week ahead and have a think about how work fits in with my other planned activities. I also top up Buffer, which I use for social media scheduling, with posts for my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. I take some time to look through blog posts and articles that have been published over the previous week and make sure I'm sharing any relevant and interesting articles written by friends and colleagues, as well as shareable writing from various websites and blogs I follow. I use the news aggregator feedly to curate all this in one place for me to read.
And now we're back to Monday again, with another week to look forward to!
There's no such thing as a typical week!
So there you go – seven days in my life as an editor. Of course, not all weeks look like this. Sometimes deadlines loom and publishing schedules shift, leaving me with no option but to power through. When that happens I feel like I barely look up from my screen all week!
But this week I had events planned well in advance, so I knew I wouldn't have as many billable work hours available as usual. Which is fine – I enjoyed the mix of work and social time that I had.
This week shows the variety in my work life, and I hope you enjoyed a wee look behind the scenes. You can see how admin tasks, marketing, networking, meeting colleagues and, hopefully, teaching are all part and parcel of my work, and every other editor's, too, I imagine.
What about you? How did your week shape up? Did you have a nice mix of tasks and activities to keep you interested and motivated? Let me know in the comments – I'm nosy about stuff like that, remember?
Yesterday I spent an enjoyable day in Edinburgh at the second Scottish mini-conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). The first was in 2014, when approximately 60 editors attended; this year we were in a bigger venue (the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church in Nicholson Square) and 90 of us, from Scotland and the north of England, were there.
History of the Scottish mini-conference
The first conference grew from the two Scottish local groups (LGs) at the time (Glasgow and North/East Scotland) deciding to have a joint meeting. This idea grew arms and legs and, before we knew it (and with a lot of hard work behind the scenes), the mini-conference was born.
The speakers on the day were all local group members (with one exception), and they donated their time for free, as they would at a normal group meeting, allowing us to keep our costs very low.
It was very well-received by our many members who find it difficult to attend the annual SfEP conference because of financial, travel or time constraints. Anywhere is a long way when you live in the far north or the islands!
One of the aims of that day was also to establish whether there was enough interest to restart the Edinburgh local group, which had been defunct for a number of years. It’s great to see that, three years on, the group has not only been resurrected, but is thriving.
This year – bigger and better!
This time around we were bigger and, I like to think, slicker. We used the ticketing site Eventbrite, which was very straightforward. It worked extremely well, handling ticket purchases and refunds, and sending reminders to delegates. The fee that it takes (a percentage of each ticket which you can absorb into the overall ticket price) is well worth the peace of mind and huge time saving. Several delegates commented on how professional it looked and how simple the process was.
We also secured two well-known key speakers for the day: Geoff Pullum, Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh and blogger at Language Log and Lingua Franca, and Laura Poole, scholarly editor extraordinaire, trainer and co-owner of Copy-editing.com.
As with the first conference, we also had a local group member speaking and several members of the SfEP council to update us on current issues.
We were welcomed by Sabine Citron, current Chair of the SfEP and member of the Glasgow LG, who spoke briefly of the history of the mini-conference. She wondered out loud why, despite the organisers of the first conference writing extensive guidelines on how to go about it, no other local groups had got together to put on their own event. Any ideas?
He began by suggesting which reference books he thinks every copy-editor should have to hand (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage and The Chicago Manual of Style) and what books should, in his opinion, be burned! (including the revered-by-some Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style!) Grammar was up next, and he asserted how outdated most current books are, observing that, consequently, people are anxious and unclear about passives, prepositions, pronouns and the use of adverbs and adjectives.
‘Unsupported flaming nonsense’ about avoiding the passive voice and eliminating adjectives, from sources such as Strunk and White, George Orwell and The Publication Manual of the APA was given short shrift. Using extracts from a recent speech by Theresa May and the much-lauded, beautifully written ending of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, he demonstrated how adjectives and adverbs are not just decorative, but are needed for sense and meaning.
Pullum’s advice to the sophisticated copy-editor: Ignore the advice of books on usage and writing when they tell you adjectives and adverbs are redundant and should be avoided. They have not looked at the statistics of normal prose or considered the implications of their advice.
He went on to address singular they – which many (most?) editors already accept, and is now approved by many style guides including, recently, The Chicago Manual of Style – observing that it is increasingly treated by the young as the default when referring to an individual whose sex is unknowable or not at issue.
His advice to the sophisticated copy-editor: 'They' is fully acceptable as a neutral singular pronoun when referring to an arbitrary, generic, indeterminate individual.
Avoiding the split infinitive was up next for a take-down, with Pullum noting that this convention appears to have been started in the 1830s by ‘P’, an anonymous writer, for no good reason.
His advice to the sophisticated copy-editor: Don’t ever unsplit a ‘split infinitive’ if it makes sense. Great damage may be done to intelligibility as well as style.
Finally, he stamped on the idea that you can’t use hopefully to introduce a sentence, reminding us that adverbs don’t just modify verbs – they can also act as modal adjuncts to qualify the relation between the proposition and the truth. For example, 'hopefully expresses that the truth of the proposition isn’t a certainty but merely a hoped-for outcome'.
His advice to the sophisticated copy-editor: Don’t ever imagine that there’s something wrong with 'hopefully' as a clause-introducing modal adjunct.
Professor Pullum’s talk confirmed what many of us already think, but gave us the confidence and ammunition to use when challenged by those who are still bound by outdated conventions.
Some of the things that you could include in your application to upgrade are:
There was some audience discussion of the application process, including a comment that someone ‘couldn’t find the time as it would take so long to do’, although a recent upgrade to Advanced Professional Member felt it didn’t take too long – about a morning – and was much less painful than doing a tax return!
Another delegate observed that knowing what sort of information will be needed for upgrading would be useful at an early stage, perhaps when first joining, so that members could record it in a way that will make applying for an upgrade easier. Jane agreed that this was a useful point and would look at how the information could be given to new members.
It’s worth remembering that with the new upgrade process you can’t stay at an entry-level or intermediate member forever – there are time limits at both levels – so it's best to think about how you can work towards upgrading sooner rather than later.
At this point Stephen Cashmore, Training Director of the SfEP and member of the Glasgow LG, was to talk about the SfEP training courses, particularly the recently updated and expanded Proofreading and Copy-editing suites. Unfortunately he was let down by connectivity problems and wasn’t able to demonstrate the online courses as planned. You can learn more about these courses on the SfEP website.
We then had a tea break when people had a chance to catch up with colleagues and meet new members. Having half an hour is the minimum time needed to get a drink and have a few different conversations, I reckon!
She did a live demonstration (brave!) of how she uses these tools to do pre-editing clean-up tasks such as deleting multiple spaces and returns, changing hyphens to en-dashes in number ranges, and cleaning up ells used as ones and capital Os used as zeros.
Ashley also demonstrated the function/shortcut keys that Editor’s Toolkit assigns and the toggle word and toggle character functions in Wordsnsync EditTools. One major function she uses Wordsnsync EditTools for is the journals dataset, which contains the correct title and short name of 16,000 journals. This tool will automatically check a reference list against the dataset, make corrections and highlight what has been checked and is correct, and what has been checked, found to be incorrect and changed.
She explained that this incredibly useful facility can save a lot of time, but can be a bit temperamental and doesn’t like you doing anything else while it’s working – not even moving the mouse! – so it’s best to go and make a cup of tea while it does its thing! This took a couple of minutes to run through a list of 30 references in the live demo, but Ashley says her desktop would run through the same list in about 30 seconds. Longer reference lists will obviously increase the time it takes.
The lunch break saw plenty of editors relish the chance to catch some Scottish sunshine while they did some more catching up (For a supposedly shy bunch they don’t half talk a lot!)
The afternoon sessions were given over to Laura Poole, our guest speaker who had flown all the way from Durham, North Carolina (not to be confused with Durham, in the north-east of England where a couple of delegates had travelled from!).
We were entreated to own our skills and experience, and the words only and just were banned when talking about ourselves.
Laura’s final session, titled Taking charge of your freelance life: tools and techniques, was about finding balance, managing the dreaded feast or famine cycle, business practices and task management.
We spent some time looking at why, as freelancers, we fear not earning and so say yes to every opportunity we are offered. Drawing on her training as a life coach, and using her own real-life examples, she asked us to consider these questions each time we need to make a decision, rather than automatically saying yes:
And also, remember that ‘No.’ is a complete sentence!
It’s an interesting exercise that reminds you that there are consequences, good and bad, for every decision we make.
Looking at the feast or famine cycle, Laura suggests using the '3 Ds' to triage your schedule when you are overcommitted – delete, defer, delegate – and to use downtime for self-care, business building and networking.
There was plenty of interaction with the audience, as Laura encouraged us to share our experiences, and information was delivered with humour and plenty of personal insights to illustrate various points.
Laura’s sessions were very insightful and practical, reminding us that we have skills we can develop to strengthen our position as freelancers, and that there is much we can do to take charge of our lives and stop feeling we are being controlled by our work.
The last segment of the day was given to Lucy Metzger, Vice-chair of SfEP and member of the Glasgow LG.
Who’s next for a mini-conference?
If you’ve got pangs of jealousy because we had such a great day up here in Scotland, why not organise your own mini-conference? It doesn’t have to be as big as this one – why not join up with another LG for a joint meeting and take it from there?
The SfEP have guidelines on setting up an event like this – it’s a fantastic alternative to the main SfEP conference for those who can’t make it. So go on – why not be the next mini-conference that everyone’s talking about?
If this event has left you pining for more editorial interaction, the next SfEP annual conference is 16–18 September 2017 at Wyboston Lakes, Bedfordshire. I hope I'll see you there!