Calling all SfEP members! There’s still time to nominate someone for this year’s Judith Butcher Award (JBA), presented annually to someone who has made a valuable contribution to the society or its members.
Most editors and proofreaders will be familiar with the name Judith Butcher, and many will own a copy of her reference book, Butcher’s Copy-editing. When Judith died in 2015, Tony Wilson, former chief executive of Cambridge University Press (1992–99) said of her: “Judith was far and away the best copy-editor 'on the block', and wrote the definitive handbook on the subject.”
Judith Butcher was the SfEP’s first honorary president, and in 2012 the society launched an award in her name. I was delighted to win this award in 2013, and I recently wrote a piece for the SfEP blog on why I’m a fan of the JBA: http://blog.sfep.org.uk/judith-butcher-award-sfep/
So don’t delay – nominate today!
See the full rules here, and email your nomination(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org by 12 noon on Friday 5 May 2017.
“So, do you just read novels all day?”
I’m sure that’s a question many editors and proofreaders have been asked. Here, I describe some of the clients I’ve worked for over the years – including how I found them, or how they found me – to illustrate the variety of individuals, companies and other organisations who need editors and proofreaders. And because I work on non-fiction, academic and commercial material, there’s not a novel in sight.
Source of work: Speculative enquiries (letters and phone calls); Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) directory
Publishers are probably the first clients that spring to mind when people think about editing and proofreading. And yes, in the early years of my career, all my clients were publishers. For one of them I worked on non-fiction books for the general reader, on topics including real ale, astrology, horse-race betting, wedding planning and feng shui. Another early publishing client introduced me to on-screen work (in the mid-1990s). These were very different experiences, but equally valuable.
The EU Agency
Source of work: SfEP directory
Since 2003 I’ve worked for a small company on an editing contract with the European Training Foundation in Turin, Italy. It involves editing reports about vocational education and training – and related topics such as migration and the labour market – in EU partner countries. I love this work, although I’m slightly concerned about how it will be affected by Brexit…
The Individual Author
Source of work: Journal publisher’s website; SfEP directory; Colleague referrals
Many of my individual clients are academics, most of whom do not have English as a first language. I help them to improve the language and formatting of their papers before submission to an academic journal. I’ve built up strong long-term relationships with a number of individual clients – both academics and general non-fiction authors – on several different continents.
The Marketing Company
Source of work: Local networking; SfEP directory; Colleague referrals
These are often small firms who don’t have the in-house expertise required to edit or proofread their own or their clients’ material, or even to write such material in the first place. I’ve worked on web and brochure copy, as well as straplines and other brand-related text. The jobs can range from just a few words to pages and pages of copy, on pretty much any topic under the sun.
Source of work: SfEP directory
It’s important that student reports are well written and free from errors. Throughout the school year, I work on batches of reports for all the year groups at one particular school. I share this task with another proofreader, and wrote about this regular work in a previous blog post. Tight (and immovable) deadlines are the norm, but we both really enjoy working for this client.
The Commercial Client
Source of work: SfEP directory; Colleague referrals
From greetings cards and novelty game instructions to product packaging of various types, this category encompasses a whole range of different material. In many cases there is only a small amount of text, but accuracy is of the utmost importance. The jobs I’ve done for these clients have mostly been small, one-off pieces of work, including some for high-street names.
I suspect that many of us who have been editing and proofreading for a number of years (or even decades!) will have worked for a range of different clients. Of course, the list above is not exhaustive, but I hope it offers an insight into the range of clients who need the services of editors and proofreaders.
I love working alone. I really do. Yes, I enjoy liaising with clients and colleagues – both online and in person – but most of the time there’s just me, on my own, focusing on a piece of work for a specific client.
After many years of solitary toil, though, I’ve rediscovered the joys of working closely with another person on a particular project. A couple of years ago I began proofreading student reports for a school. The work was enjoyable – and very different from the material I usually work on – but the deadlines were tight (and non-negotiable). The summer report schedule was particularly punishing, and I realised in advance that I wouldn’t be able to fulfil it on my own.
Fortunately, fellow SfEP member Laura Ripper was willing to take on some of the school proofreading. And the rest, as they say, is History (plus Geography, French and Computer Studies).
I needed someone who was highly competent, and who could grasp the system I’d already set up (including dealing with the slight complication of having the text supplied in Excel). Laura came on board, quickly picked up what was required, and took to it like a duck to water. She also made some excellent suggestions on how we could improve our working methods, something that I really appreciated.
Laura and I now share the reports throughout the year, including the busy summer period. We’ve developed a number of clean-up routines that we carry out before and after proofreading, using find and replace, spellcheck and tools such as PerfectIt and macros. We focus on style points such as initial capitals on subject names, punctuation preferences and the names of extra-curricular clubs and activities. We look out for commonly confused words (flare/flair, practice/practise, rigor/rigour). We check the spelling of student names and make sure the full name is used (no nicknames or shortened forms). And during the proofreading itself we check the usual things – spelling, grammar, punctuation – but also query anything that seems amiss.
Together we keep the style sheet up to date and customise PerfectIt to meet our proofreading requirements. When working on the reports we email each other throughout the day to discuss style points, and sometimes to alert one another to specific recurring errors in a particular teacher’s reports.
Of course, emails sometimes also stray into very important non-work areas. What’s for dinner? Will there be time for a brisk walk today? Any plans for the weekend? It’s all part of working closely with a colleague, albeit at a distance.
It’s good to be able to make joint decisions and to keep each other up to date with progress. I retain overall control of the project (I subcontract the work to Laura), mainly to make it easier for the client, who’s very happy with this arrangement.
So all in all, it’s been a very positive experience. I’d give it 10 out of 10.
The roof’s leaking, the cat’s at the vet’s, global events are going from bad to worse, and – as if all that wasn’t enough to deal with – you’ve run out of milk for your coffee. You’d think focusing on work would be difficult, and it’s true that this is sometimes the case.
But you might actually find that concentrating on work is just what you need when things around you seem difficult or troubling.
Following the recent American election, Helen Angove, a US colleague, posted this in an online forum:
“…it has been unexpectedly calming and heartening both to work on something that needs real concentration and to work on a document that clearly demonstrates this client’s commitment to honesty, integrity and inclusivity. Proofreading as therapy. Who knew?”
I’ve heard this same view expressed on other occasions. Editing and proofreading can calm the mind and create a feeling of well-being, even in the face of worrying situations.
Art, writing, music and craft activities have long been known to offer similar benefits. Like editing and proofreading, they require brain power and focus. Sometimes they’re complex, sometimes they’re repetitive, and sometimes they call for creative problem solving. And there’s usually a sense of what the end product will be – ideally, something that will bring a feeling of satisfaction and achievement.
As an editor, I need a great deal of focus when I’m editing the work of non-native-English authors, whether it’s a journal article on library search behaviour or a report on vocational education in Central Asia. It can be challenging at times, but there’s nothing quite like getting down to the nitty-gritty of a sentence or paragraph and crafting a clearer version. It’s something I really enjoy, and I find it satisfying to look back at the material I’ve edited and see the results of my efforts.
I also enjoy the mechanical aspects of work, such as formatting references. Applying a set of rules to a list of sources requires concentration and attention to detail: a comma here, italics there…you get the picture. Yes, it can be repetitive, and there’s very little creativity involved, but perhaps that’s one of the attractions! And the feeling of satisfaction when I’ve created a lovely neat list is wonderful.
Using the right tools for the job – macros, PerfectIt or ‘find and replace’ routines – engages the problem-solving part of the brain. Again, there’s something satisfying about making changes throughout a document and knowing that I’ve achieved order and consistency.
These are personal observations, and they relate mainly to the work itself. I haven’t even mentioned the pleasure of building relationships with clients and colleagues, the satisfaction of feeling part of a team or a process, or the thrill of receiving positive feedback. Plus, of course, the tangible benefit of getting paid at the end of it all.
And I admit that there are some days when work isn’t such a positive experience – when the technology misbehaves, when deadlines start to press, or when tiredness or illness strikes.
On the whole, though, editing is a positive pursuit. First and foremost, it’s my profession, and the way I make my living, but if it can also enhance my well-being, so much the better!
I love my work. Every day I spend my time editing non-fiction and academic texts on subjects such as business, education, management and economics. But in my spare time, there’s nothing I like more than getting engrossed in a really good novel.
I live in an area with a very strong literary heritage: the Brontë sisters lived in nearby Haworth. A recent event at the Old School Rooms in Haworth gave me a chance to hear how two contemporary novelists, Tracy Chevalier and Maggie O’Farrell, feel a connection with Charlotte Brontë’s most famous work, Jane Eyre.
As well as discussing aspects of the novel, including the strong central character and the use of first-person narration, Tracy and Maggie reflected on the nuts and bolts of writing, both in relation to Charlotte Brontë and from their own experiences.
For me, one of the most interesting parts of the discussion focused on how the Brontës developed their novels. The sisters would sit together at a table to write, and would take it in turns to walk around the table reading parts of their work aloud. Maggie O’Farrell wondered about the editorial interaction between the sisters. How far did they collaborate during this process? To what extent did they ‘borrow’ from each other’s personal experiences for their own individual writing?
Part of Charlotte’s working method involved writing out short sections of text on individual pieces of paper and revising them before copying them onto the manuscript. Tracy Chevalier wondered just how many changes were made before the final version was produced. If only Track Changes had been available in 19th-century Haworth!
As I sit in my office editing a journal article on knowledge organisations or a lengthy report on education policy in Central Asia, I can draw inspiration from Charlotte’s writing process and her desire to hone each and every sentence to perfection.
When it comes to writing and editing, some things never change.
When I began working as a freelance proofreader 20 years ago, I had no thoughts of expanding my horizons beyond the UK. My first client was based many miles away in the south of England, so I became used to working remotely. Hard-copy proofs arrived and were returned by post, discussions took place over the phone, and payment was made by cheque. But the idea that my work might have an international dimension probably didn’t occur to me, especially in the early days, before most people had internet access.
With the arrival of the internet, email made it possible to send and receive documents very quickly between countries. Editors and proofreaders were able to offer their services to clients in far-flung locations, and it was much easier for those clients to find an editorial professional using search engines and online directories. It seemed as though the world had opened up.
Fast forward to the present. I edit journal articles for academics all over the world: my main academic client holds professorships on two different continents. I edit reports written in English for an EU agency based in Italy, via a company based in Spain. And I regularly work for clients in the Far East, the Middle East, Australasia, and all over Europe. (I also do still work for UK clients!)
As well as having clients from across the globe, I’m now in touch – through social media – with editorial colleagues based in many different countries. I’ve found this to be an enriching experience, and one that has enhanced my perspective and given me a real insight into what’s happening in other countries, editorially speaking.
I recently expanded my horizons even further: I attended my first overseas editing conference, the annual meeting of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators in Tarragona, Spain. I met editors and translators of different nationalities who are based in countries around Europe – and further afield.
It was a reminder that editing, proofreading and other English language services are in demand across the globe. Long may that continue.
UPDATE: I attended another Mediterranean Editors and Translators conference in September 2019, and wrote a blog post about the event.