On a windy October night that was strangely warm for the time of year, the skies dark with the threat of rain, I made my way over the bleak Yorkshire hills to the magnificent, majestic Piece Hall in Halifax. (OK, I’ll stop that now. I’m an academic editor, not a fiction author.) I was going to an event entitled ‘How to Get Published Without an Agent or Travelling Down to London’, the venue was The Book Corner bookshop, and my companion was novelist and fiction editor Helena Fairfax.
As an author, Helena had more of a vested interest in the topic than I had. But I’m always keen to support local publishing-related activities, and I welcome any excuse to visit the Piece Hall. The speakers at this event – part of Halifax Festival of Words – were Kevin and Hetha Duffy from Bluemoose Books in Hebden Bridge. They’re fierce supporters of the northern publishing scene and have invested a great deal, personally and professionally, in promoting literary fiction that mainstream UK publishers might not be willing to publish.
Kevin and Hetha gave an entertaining round-up of the various options for getting published. The traditional route is through a literary agent, who then liaises with publishers in the hope of securing a deal for the author. We heard about some of the drawbacks of this system, the main one being the reluctance of larger publishers, who are focused on the profits they have to make for their shareholders, to take risks with work by new authors, particularly if that work is outside established genres or current literary trends.
Submitting to a small independent publisher – Bluemoose, for example – is another option. Kevin and Hetha gave us a fascinating insight into their publishing process. They receive around five hundred submissions (of three chapters and a synopsis) every year, request full manuscripts for around five of these each month, and then eventually publish around three or four titles a year. They have to really fall in love with a manuscript if they’re to publish it (although they admitted that the two of them don’t always fall in love with the same things!).
Kevin and Hetha described some of their publishing successes, including Benjamin Myers’ novel The Gallows Pole, for which Benjamin has won several literary prizes and a not inconsiderable amount of money. Benjamin’s publishing journey has not been an entirely smooth one, his second novel having been turned down by the large company that had published his first novel. Following the outstanding success of The Gallows Pole – his third novel – the rights to Ben’s backlist have now been bought by Bloomsbury. Kevin and Hetha clearly regard this as a vindication of their decision to support Benjamin’s work and of their approach to taking what other companies might see as a risk.
What stood out for me was the emphasis placed on the editorial process. Hetha gave her two key tips for authors.
The company has a small team of editors, including Hetha’s mother, who go through a manuscript until they are absolutely satisfied that it is the best it can be. Editing is not an easy process, and some authors are uncomfortable with it, but Kevin and Hetha are so passionate about the books they publish that they are unwilling to compromise on this. And they’ve come to realise the importance of making it clear to authors from the outset that this is what will happen to their manuscript. Ultimately, if the Bluemoose team are not fully satisfied with the final version of a novel, they could take the decision not to publish. However, they were keen to stress that they would rather work with an author than battle it out over the quality (or otherwise) of individual sentences.
There was a great deal more information here, including a description of other routes to publishing: self-publishing (which has massively increased in popularity in recent years), vanity publishing and print on demand.
From its very humble beginnings in 2006, Bluemoose Books has become a force to be reckoned with – albeit still a small one – in the UK publishing industry. I get the impression they are less and less concerned with trying to compete with the (mainstream) London publishing scene: they clearly have their own fiercely independent vision of what they want to achieve. In fact, in recent times, mainstream agents and publishers have been approaching Bluemoose, rather than the other way around.
This was a really lively and engaging talk, and a great thing to have as part of the Halifax Festival of Words. I’m sure those in the audience who are keen to have their work published will have found it very useful and picked up some valuable tips.
I’m not an author, but I enjoyed Kevin and Hetha’s energy and enthusiasm, their drive to support publishing outside London, and – perhaps most of all – their endorsement of editing as the most important part of their publishing process.
For many editors and proofreaders, the natural reaction to the words ‘public speaking’ can be summed up as follows: ‘Aaaaaaaaaargghhhh!’ (Or is that just me?)
Editing and proofreading tend to be rather solitary pursuits conducted behind closed doors, away from the public eye. For many freelancers, the need to speak in public doesn’t crop up regularly. In fact, sometimes there’s little need to speak at all in the course of a working day, especially now that online methods of communication are so widely used.
And if a public speaking opportunity does occasionally present itself – the invitation to give a talk or deliver a session at a conference – there’s usually the option for the freelancer to say ‘no’ without jeopardising their core editing and proofreading business.
So what on earth would possess a freelance editor to step outside their comfort zone and train in public speaking? At a recent meeting of our local Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) group, we heard from neuroscience editor Julia Slone-Murphy about ‘The life-changing magic of public speaking’.
Julia described situations in the past when she had been obliged to speak in public: the sleepless nights beforehand, the sweaty palms, the racing heartrate, the typewritten script delivered rapidly and without looking at the audience… She recently decided to tackle her fear by taking some training. Stepping several miles outside her comfort zone, Julia signed for up both a stand-up comedy course and some training with the Public Speaking Academy. Here’s a summary of what she gained, followed by three top tips for public speaking.
Key benefits of public speaking training
Three Top Tips
1.Make it personal
Your audience will be much more engaged in your speech if you remember to be yourself. Remember that we all have something different to say, and a unique way of saying it. Weave your own personal experiences and views into the message you’re conveying. Your audience is more likely to relate to your ‘story’, and your speech is more likely to be memorable and entertaining.
2.Focus on the message
Rather than worrying about being the centre of attention during your speech, focus on delivering a message your audience will find interesting. That will move the spotlight away from you and onto your audience: it will help you to give a useful, generous and helpful talk, without worrying about what people are thinking about you.
You need to find opportunities to carry on honing your skills and developing your techniques, otherwise you’ll be back to square one. Signing up for regular training is a good idea, as is saying ‘yes’ to as many speaking opportunities as possible!
Julia has gained so much from the training that she encourages everyone to improve their public speaking skills, whether or not they’re planning to give a presentation or make a speech. Goodbye, sweaty palms and racing heartrate; hello, logical thinking, eloquent delivery and sparkling social and business encounters!
Bradford has had its fair share of bad publicity over the years, and it might not be the first place that immediately springs to mind if you’re thinking of cultural events. But a few years ago, Bradford Literature Festival (BLF) burst onto the scene – and I love it! This year’s festival is fast approaching. Here’s why I’m looking forward to it.
1. Big names
For such a young festival, BLF attracts some notable speakers. This year there’s Akala, David Starkey, Suzy Quatro and Jeanette Winterson (to name but four). In previous years I’ve been to events featuring Will Self and Lemn Sissay. And at last year’s festival, I happened to fall into conversation with none other than Germaine Greer as she took refreshment in the bar before a panel event. The hot topic she chose? The traffic diversions and snarl-ups she’d encountered on her way home from an event the previous night. Not quite what I was expecting.
2. Professional interest
As an editor, I’ve loved being able to hear experts like linguist David Crystal and The Times columnist Oliver Kamm talking about language and usage. I’ve attended panel discussions on English as a global language, getting published and how not to write bad sex. And at this year’s BLF I’m looking forward to hearing about the author–editor relationship, a subject close to my heart. I’ll also be finding out what’s in store for the publishing industry from some of those who are in the know: the editor of The Bookseller magazine and the cofounder of crowdfunding publisher Unbound.
I’m always impressed by the wide range of events at BLF. There’s classic literature and contemporary crime fiction, there’s poetry and rap, there’s manga and magic, there’s Brexit and religion, there’s music, comedy, film, heritage tours, walks... It’s a great opportunity to immerse yourself in something you love, or dip your toe into something new. Expect to laugh, cry, think, enjoy and relax, and come away inspired, informed and challenged. What more could you ask for?
4. The local angle
Bradford has a rich literary heritage, and that plays a part in BLF. Inevitably, perhaps, the Brontës are often featured – and this year is no exception – but there’s always a real desire to explore their work in new and interesting ways. Other local talents also come under the spotlight. Last year I enjoyed a fascinating discussion on the work of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar (of Rita, Sue and Bob Too fame), herself the subject of a novel by another Yorkshire writer, Adelle Stripe. The 2018 programme includes events on J.B. Priestley, Sylvia Plath and David Hockney, all of whom have local connections. And local publishers are often represented, both in panel discussions and through the authors they publish. It’s a great way to learn about the area’s history and discover new local talent.
Say ‘literature festival’ and many people would think it wasn’t for them. But I’m sure at least some would reconsider if they took a look at the programme and maybe tried out an event or two. There’s a great variety of stuff that’s designed to appeal to all age groups and to reflect Bradford’s diverse communities. Most events take place in or around the city centre, and some are free. And I’ve recently discovered that as well as the usual discounts for students, senior citizens and disabled people, there are special tickets for refugees, asylum seekers and benefit recipients (the cost of a ticket refunded on attendance = free entry!).
6. Educational focus
Bradford has a chequered history when it comes to education, and many of its schools still struggle with literacy and educational attainment. I think BLF can only be a good thing in this respect. Apart from a programme that’s chock-full of stuff for children and young people – with plenty of free activities, including a Baby Rave, for which I’m considering borrowing a baby – BLF has a great schools programme, which includes author events, performances, writing workshops, and author visits to schools. I was really interested to hear about the school exchange with the long-established Hay Festival, and I’m so glad the students who took part enjoyed their visit.
7. Celebrating what’s best about Bradford
I think the fact that Bradford can put on a festival of such quality is a demonstration of what’s best about this vibrant city and its culture. During previous festivals I’ve spent time in the Festival Hub in City Park, and it’s a great place to hang out, grab a coffee and enjoy the buzz. I’ve been interested to see the inside of some of the city’s great buildings, such as City Hall and the Midland Hotel, and I can confirm that there’s more to Bradford than riots, sink estates and dark satanic mills. And even if only a fraction of the city’s population comes to BLF events, many more – especially children and young people – will surely benefit from its effects.
So, there it is. I can’t wait for BLF and for the chance to learn something new, be challenged and entertained, and perhaps even find out about visiting celebrities’ travel headaches. Bring it on!
What gives you confidence?
Have you thought about this question? Or are you too busy thinking about reasons not to be confident? Do you ever experience fear of failure, imposter syndrome or general insecurity (whether personal or professional)?
If you’re a freelance editor or proofreader (in fact, a freelancer of any type), you often don’t have the same support networks as an employee working in-house. Isolation can erode your confidence and make it difficult for you to work effectively and grow your business. And it’s so easy to get stuck in a mindset where you’re focused on how your insecurity is holding you back, rather than on small steps you can take to recognise the successes you’ve achieved.
I recently attended an event called Confidence Club. The main focus was on speaking in public, both in front of a roomful of people and in one-to-one networking situations. That’s a whole different ball-game, confidence-wise! But it did make me think about the confidence we need as freelance editors and proofreaders. Where does it come from? And is there anything we can do to give it a boost?
I came to the conclusion that it is possible to find, increase and maintain your confidence, even when you’re working on your own for most of the time. And it’s not so much about stepping outside your comfort zone, as might be the case with public speaking, for example. It’s more about recognising and building on your achievements in the course of your everyday work.
Here are 10 sources of confidence for freelancers.
1. Keeping your business going
Whether you have a small number of jobs under your belt or you’ve been freelancing for decades, the fact that you’re running your own business is a real achievement.
2. Repeat business
There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when a client comes back for more. (“Yay! They were happy with my work!”)
3. Communication methods
If you’re mainly communicating electronically, rather than on the phone or face to face, it’s less likely you’ll be put on the spot. You have time to plan your marketing messages, your emails and your social media output in a way that demonstrates confidence to your clients.
Comments from clients can give you a boost. And remember, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for testimonials.
5. Getting paid
There’s nothing quite like the (virtual) sound of cash hitting your bank account for a job you’ve done. It gives you confidence that you really are running a proper business.
6. Technical knowledge
Confidence comes from having the right professional skills for editing and proofreading – and from knowing where to find things out if you’re unsure.
7. Using tools efficiently
Finding a new software tool or using a new technique can be very satisfying. For a start, you’ve had the confidence to try something different, and it’s even better if you’ve also improved your efficiency.
8. Work/life balance
Although in some ways it’s great to be inundated with work, it isn’t sustainable in the long term. And having too little work can be just as much of a problem. If you can find an appropriate balance between work and life – whatever’s right for your situation – you can count that as a success and feel confident that you’re in control.
Being in touch with fellow professionals – whether online or in person – can help you to gain confidence in your business decisions and technical skills. Whether it’s sharing experiences (positive and negative), asking for advice, or even working together on joint projects, professional colleagues have a lot to offer.
10. Win Jar
Some freelancers have embraced the idea of a Win Jar. It’s a place (actually, a jar!) where you can record your successes and positive feedback on pieces of paper and revisit them when you need a pick-me-up. However small the win, write it down and put it in the jar.
So there we have it – 10 things that can give you confidence as a freelance editor and proofreader without you having to step too far outside your comfort zone.
You can help some of them along: for example, joining the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) is a great way to increase your knowledge (No. 5) and develop connections with others in the editing and proofreading sphere (No. 9).
Some of these confidence boosters will evolve over time as you pursue your freelance business (Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 7, for instance). Your task is to notice and appreciate them as successes.
And for No. 10 you’ll need to develop a new, positive habit – that of recording your wins. It’s also an excuse for a shopping trip to buy yourself a funky jar. Retail therapy, anyone?
Microsoft Word is the standard software used for editing, and Track Changes is one of its most useful features: it shows amendments that have been made to a Word document and allows other people to accept or reject these changes.
When I’m editing for a client – whether that’s an academic author, a government body, a business, an organisation, or an individual – my focus is on making it easy for them to see the amendments I have made to their material. Track Changes is the ideal way to do that. I can also add queries or explanations using the Comments function.
There are a few things an editor can do to make it easier for a client to read a document when Track Changes have been used. First, it’s worth considering whether every change needs to be tracked. For example, will the author need to know that you’ve changed the proofing language? If you select all the text and change the language with Track Changes on, this will add a ‘Formatted: [language]’ mark-up every time you make any sort of correction to the text from then on (see left). So you may decide to make this a ‘silent’ change – one that’s made with Track Changes turned off.
Another correction that can usually be left untracked is changing double spaces (between words or sentences) to single spaces. The same goes for any unnecessary spaces that occur at the end of a line or paragraph, or within the cells of a table. Changes to the overall formatting – the font size, the line spacing, the paragraph style – are often best left untracked. If it’s important for the author to know that you’ve made any of these untracked changes, you can add a Comment at the start of the document or mention it in the covering email when you return the work.
When it comes to sending the edited document back to the client, there are various steps you can take to help with readability and clarity. I usually send two versions of the document:
If the client wants to look at all my amendments – apart from the ones I’ve made ‘silently’ – the Tracked document gives them the full picture. The client can go through the document line by line and accept or reject each change at the touch of a button. The points raised in the Comments can also be considered along the way.
Alternatively, if the client prefers to read the end result and is not overly concerned with each amendment, the Final version is available. The document can be read without the distraction of coloured lines and corrections, and the Comments are still visible, so any queries or explanations are there for the client to see.
Rather than peruse the Final version, the client could, of course, simply use the Tracked version and choose to view the document with ‘No Markup’ (one of the viewing options on the Tracking section of the Review tab). This would look the same as the Final version and would enable the client to quickly view, accept or reject the corrections by toggling from ‘No Markup’ to ‘Full Markup’.
But I’ve found that clients appreciate having the two different versions – one with changes showing and one with changes accepted – with the Comments visible on both. Track Changes is a useful feature, but there are so many options for how the mark-up appears (and which types of correction are visible) that it pays to keep things straightforward.
Something I heard on the radio recently made me think about how the language we use can signal a positive or negative approach to a particular topic.
Following a programme dealing with new advice on healthy lifestyles, the announcer said, ‘Well, the news seems to be full of doom and gloom about diet and exercise, but let’s find out whether the weather is any more cheerful.’
The announcer’s comments automatically cast the advice on diet and exercise in a negative light. She could have used positive language (‘Well, after that great advice on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, how’s the weather looking?’), or even left things fairly neutral (‘Well, lots to think about there. Now let’s look at what the weather has in store.’). But the suggestion was that maintaining a healthy lifestyle necessarily involves a level of suffering and privation, rather than being an active choice to follow healthier habits.
Now, I’m not saying it’s always easy to stay in an optimistic frame of mind – I do my fair share of grumbling and catastrophising! But when it comes to editorial freelancing, there are definitely ways of seeing the positive side of situations. Here are a few examples.
1. Running a business
To pick up the ‘healthy lifestyle’ theme, as freelancers we often need to take action to keep our businesses in a healthy condition. That sometimes means doing things outside our comfort zone – marketing and networking spring to mind here – or tackling tasks that seem boring or mundane, such as planning or accounts. Other activities might seem expensive or time-consuming (or both!): taking a training course, perhaps, or setting up a website.
But turning this around, running and growing a business can be seen as a challenge, with rewards – both personal and financial – for those who do it successfully. Rather than viewing marketing, networking, planning and training as chores, perhaps we should try to approach them with enthusiasm. After all, just as with diet and exercise, we have a great deal of flexibility in the choices we make and in the way we pursue them. And as with diet and exercise, optimism, imagination and the willingness to put in some effort will usually pay dividends.
2. Losing a client
All businesses have their ups and downs, and losing a regular client can feel like a devastating blow. Sometimes it’s out of our control, such as when an organisation takes the work in-house or overseas. Sometimes it’s a matter of money – the client is no longer able or willing to pay our rates – or a mismatch in expectations about scope of work or turnaround times. Whatever the cause, replacing the lost income is likely to be a priority, especially if the shortfall means a struggle to pay bills.
It can be a surprise to realise that losing a client can have a positive side. Sometimes it’s tempting to stick with one type of client, with a particular fee level, or with specific working arrangements. Losing a client can give us the opportunity to reassess our situation and ask some fundamental questions. Is it time for a change of direction? Are there new types of client, or new types of work, that we’d like to pursue? Could this be an opportunity to raise our rates? Depending on the circumstances of the loss, it might also be a chance to assess what went ‘wrong’ (if anything), and whether there are things we can do to protect ourselves against this in the future.
Working as a freelance editor or proofreader has its own lifestyle challenges, and it’s important to take heed of the advice that’s available. Maintaining health and wellbeing involves – among other things – taking regular breaks from the screen, making an effort to get some fresh air and exercise, and thinking carefully about food and drink consumption.
Rather than see these as tedious ‘rules’ that have to be followed, we need to see them as an investment in our physical and mental health, and, hence, the health of our business. We can enjoy time away from the screen, whether we’re doing something else that’s useful or taking time out to relax. Laura Ripper has some excellent suggestions on her blog. Fresh air and exercise have obvious physical benefits, and they also offer a chance to think – or to switch off completely if that’s what’s needed. And our choice of food and drink can have an immediate effect on productivity – who can edit efficiently after a carb-heavy lunch?
4. A ‘can do’ attitude
Of course, it’s important to be clear – to ourselves as well as to our clients – about how much we’ll charge for a particular piece of work, and when we can complete it. And if a client’s demands seem unreasonable, or they simply can’t be accommodated, there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘no’ to a project.
But if the work looks interesting and there’s some flexibility in what can be done, we can sometimes present a positive alternative. We can discuss with the client what we can do within an agreed budget – for example, edit the language but not format the references. Similarly, clients are sometimes willing to wait until there’s a suitable gap in our schedule: rather than saying ‘No, I definitely can’t do it this week’, try saying ‘I could certainly fit this in next week. Would that work for you?’
5. Approaching our work
It’s worth thinking about the ethos of our editing and proofreading services. Is it helpful to tackle our work with a sense of superiority? Should we see ourselves as ‘Grammar Nazis’ who are driven by the desire to find mistakes in other people’s writing? It’s all too easy to become disillusioned when we’re editing and proofreading. Surely everyone should know how to use an apostrophe! And why, oh why do some people still put two spaces after every full stop?
It sometimes helps to think about things from the other side of the fence. An author has put in time and effort to produce a piece of writing (which is not an easy task), and it’s our job to make it the best it can be. Yes, it sometimes seems like an uphill struggle, and we might feel as though our work goes unnoticed. But we should feel confident in our skills and expertise, and take pride in our own contribution to whatever project we’re tackling. There’s a lot to be said for being an unsung hero!
As I say, I don’t see the world through rose-tinted spectacles, and I’m not suggesting that anyone else should, either. But I certainly think it’s worth considering both sides of any situation and trying to appreciate the benefits as well as the drawbacks. Freelance editing and proofreading can be a rocky path, so it’s essential to make the most of the positives (of which there are many!).
Seasonal gifts for editorial freelancers
24 December: Six FREE gifts for freelance editors and proofreaders
To paraphrase the Grinch (who, you’ll remember, tried to steal Christmas), not everything about Christmas comes from a store. Here are six things that freelance editors and proofreaders appreciate that don’t cost money.
1. Feedback (positive or negative)
It’s valuable to have feedback from a client on a job well done, or to have some suggestions for improvement. It only takes a few moments, but it can really help to make a freelancer feel that someone has actually noticed their work.
Similarly, a quick ‘thank you’ from a client or a colleague acknowledges the effort that the freelancer has put in to meet a deadline, solve a problem, or give some helpful advice. Again, it doesn’t take long, but it’s sure to be appreciated.
Of course this costs money, but the speed at which an invoice is settled varies widely! Some clients go the extra mile to pay on time – or even before the required date – and that’s particularly pleasing for the freelancer.
If freelancers are at home during the day, that’s probably because they’re working. Yes, freelancers might take a break to catch up with household chores, go shopping, or go out for lunch. But they really appreciate it when non-freelancing friends and family recognise that ‘being in the house’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘being available for a chat’ or ‘being available…’ for anything else apart from work.
Many freelancers work alone, so they value the support they receive from colleagues. Sometimes that’s face to face, for example at an SfEP local group, but nowadays it’s just as likely to be online. The SfEP forums and the various Facebook groups for editors all create a sense of camaraderie and offer a place to air problems, share experiences and seek help, 24/7!
As often happens in traditional workplaces, freelancing can lead to long-lasting friendships. Editors and proofreaders who’ve met through local networking, the SfEP conference, or online groups or forums sometimes discover that they have a great deal in common over and above their professional interests. It’s a very supportive profession, with fellow freelancers seen as colleagues rather than competitors, and even clients can become friends!
So whether or not your seasonal gifts have a price tag, I hope you enjoy Christmas, and I wish you all the best for 2018.
Every day from 1 December I've been posting a gift idea for editorial freelancers. Here are links to the posts for 15 to 23 December.
Look out for the final post of the Advent Calendar on 24 December. It's something a little different...
Seasonal gifts for editorial freelancers
23 December: Mugs
There are plenty of options for the tea- or coffee-drinking freelancer, from Penguin Classics mugs and editing-themed mugs to those featuring a favourite hobby (Scrabble, for example). Then there are pint-sized mugs, elegant china mugs and insulated mugs. For a really bespoke gift, what about a mug – or even a set of mugs – dedicated to grammar grumbles?
Seasonal gifts for editorial freelancers
22 December: Books
We’ve talked about reference books, but there’s plenty of other reading material to interest the editorial freelancer. David Crystal’s books (perhaps The Gift of the Gab, or his autobiographical Just a Phrase I’m Going Through), Oliver Kamm’s Accidence Will Happen, Stephen Pinker’s The Sense of Style and Diane Athill’s Stet all come highly recommended. And a book token never goes amiss…