The Wordstitch blog

Attitude is everything‘Professionalism’ is one of those rare things: a buzzword with longevity and real value for both the professional and the client who benefits from that professionalism.

But what exactly does it mean to be a professional copy-editor or proofreader? As a project manager, I have worked with the very best to the very worst on the scale of professionalism. I have been rendered eternally grateful by editors’ quietly assured meticulousness and I have been repelled by blatant lying and gung-ho slapdashery.

But how to ensure you’re on the right end of this scale? ‘Professionalism’ can feel like a nebulous, never-fully-attainable thing – or like something that only happens to other people. Following are ten simple, practical steps to help you cut through to the essence of what it means to be a professional copy-editor or proofreader.

1. Read, read, read!

It doesn’t much matter what. Just get on your blogroll, a high-quality forum or Twitter, or dig out an editorial magazine or newsletter such as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP)’s Editing Matters. Most days you’ll stumble on a perspective, skill or technique you hadn’t considered before.

2. Be findable

In this post I explained why, where possible, I will only hire copy-editors and proofreaders I can read about online. These days, it’s no longer a question of whether you should have an online presence; there’s now no reason not to. If I can’t find a copy-editor or proofreader online (whether in a high-quality directory, on the freelancer’s own website or on a social-media platform), they immediately seem less professional.

3. Be ethical

Find out whether your organisation has a code of standards, read it and adhere to it. Be aware of the debates surrounding editing student essays. Don’t blab about your clients’ work, even if you haven’t been asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. Be careful about what you say on Facebook and Twitter. Conform to any other ethical standards relevant to your field.

4. Join up with other professionals

Joining a professional organisation (Louise Harnby has a comprehensive list) and progressing up the ranks will (a) show that you’ve attained a certain level of experience and (b) indicate that you value your image as a professional (which is almost as important). In addition, don’t ask me for the statistics or the causality (are copy-editors made professional by belonging to organisations or are more professionally minded copy-editors more likely to join organisations? – probably a bit of both), but my gut instinct from seven years of project management is that editors who have benefitted from the culture and learning opportunities offered by professional organisations are more likely to excel and to make my job easier.

5. You’ll never know it all

I don’t care how long you’ve been in the industry; your skills can always be updated and expanded, and you can always benefit from talking to other professionals, whether copy-editors, proofreaders, designers, typesetters, indexers, freelancers, in-house, whatever. Attend at least one workshop, course or conference per year, and consider meeting up with other freelancers at local groups. Reading blogs can form part of your CPD too. And, if your budget is restricted, think outside the box and consider co-mentoring (if you do, please write and tell me about your experiences!).

6. Be rewarded

Wherever possible, charge a rate that matches your level of experience. Many great bloggers have written many things on what rates copy-editors and proofreaders (ideally) should charge. But the main points as regards professionalism are to be aware of these debates and to continually assess your range of rates, taking into account your (growing) expertise, your field and the economic climate.

7. Borrow your client’s hat

Thinking from the client’s point of view might seem difficult but it’s actually quite straightforward. It has two main facets: first, structuring your communications (everything from emails to style sheets) in ways that enable the reader to quickly and intuitively access the information they need and, second, always keeping the broader production schedule (and your potential to maintain it or screw it up) in mind.

8. Ask, ask, ask…

No sensible project manager would prefer you to muddle through rather than request clarification on a genuinely ambiguous point. It is the client’s job to provide you with an adequate brief and to be on hand to answer queries about issues they didn’t spot in their review of the manuscript; it is not your job to be psychic (and attempting to be so can lead to big messes that benefit nobody). Professional copy-editors and proofreaders should make judgement calls, not assumptions.

9. … but be kind to your client

Phrase your questions, and all your communications, as succinctly and as clearly as you can. Use numbered lists and bullet points; provide examples from the manuscript; give your client X vs. Y options wherever possible. A professional copy-editor doesn’t just hurl a problem at a client in the form of several long paragraphs of waffle; she uses her expertise and her in-depth understanding of the manuscript to pinpoint the essence of the problem and offer intelligent alternatives as solutions.

10. You are not infallible

If you make a mistake, admit it. You don’t need to indulge in self-flagellation-by-email; if your client wasn’t put off by the mistake, they will be by any overly emotional remorse (save that for your chocolate kitten, and while you’re at it read Adrienne Montgomerie’s excellent post on why editors shouldn’t castigate themselves for being human). Do, however, sincerely say that you’re sorry for the mistake and offer to help fix it. If you can’t see a way you can help, tell the client you’re on hand if they need you. If your mistake was serious, you might still lose the client. But you’ll have done your best to salvage your reputation. Finally, once things have blown over, take a good, hard look at your working procedures to make sure you never make the same mistake again. Add a new item to your job-sheet or checklist, or investigate what software and technological tricks are out there to help you achieve a higher level of accuracy.

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That last point encapsulates a lot of what professionalism is about. On the one hand, it’s about overt things like how we communicate with our clients and the quality of the work we do. But, on the other, much of our professionalism goes on silently in the background: it’s a holistic, outward-looking attitude that can nevertheless be broken down into concrete actions, as I have attempted here.

Having a professional outlook benefits the copy-editor or proofreader because she is more likely to gain the high opinion of clients and therefore repeat work. And the benefits for the client of hiring an editor with a professional outlook are obvious: reliability, accuracy and a thorough understanding of the industry.

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Do you agree with my list of what makes a professional copy-editor or proofreader? What would you add or take away?

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Having taken a necessary break for the past year, I now have lots of new Editing Mechanics posts planned, including a follow-up to my post on co-mentoring. Sign up to receive updates by email, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook for blog updates and other useful posts.

Image credit: © Marekuliasz | Dreamstime.com – Attitude Is Everything Photo

Posted in Client relations, Editing, Popular posts, Project management, Proofreading | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Editor-author relations can be like shouting at a wallAs the awed daughter and granddaughter of several teachers, I have long believed I would be unsuited to that most demanding of professions. Luckily, I stumbled on a  career that would enable me to help people who could already write rather than attempt to teach smaller people to write in the first place. Proofreading turned into copyediting and project management, and here I am.

But, now that I’m here, I’ve realised I haven’t entirely avoided the teaching profession after all. In my previous post I said a little about how editors are natural teachers and mentors. Think about it:

  1. We guide and nurture others to a better expression of ideas.
  2. We act as mediators to help authors develop the skills they need to be recognised in the big, wide, ‘grown-up’ world of publishing.
  3. We are creative problem solvers whose expertise must continually evolve to meet the challenges our clients present us with and changes in the industry.

But, if as editors we partly think of ourselves as teachers, who or what is the student? We might instinctively cast the author as the student. But, in the editor–author relationship, it’s not the author who needs correcting: it’s the manuscript. So, if the manuscript is the student, the author must be the parent.

I find this idea of the editor and author negotiating about a shared charge (the manuscript) to be a useful way of picturing my relationships with my clients. The diplomatic challenges are much the same as those faced by teachers: both parties hopefully want the best out of the ‘student’ but they may have very different agendas and different ideas of what that ‘best’ is.

I’ve found that clients broadly fall into one of three types of ‘parent’.

Type 1: the teacher’s dream

This is the ideal. Just as a supportive teacher and a nurturing parent complement each other in the process of educating and socialising a child, so can a conscientious editor and a receptive author. They jointly ‘educate’ the manuscript by ensuring it is stylistically and grammatically consistent and ‘socialise’ it by making it fit for its intended purpose and readership.

In this scenario, both parties enter the editing or proofreading process predisposed to trust and respect the skills and decisions of the other. The parent is genuinely interested in what the teacher can do for the student, and the teacher respects the parent’s worldviews and opinions about how the child should be ‘raised’.

Depending on the project, there may be very little need for actual communication (for example, if it’s a straight-forward edit). However, any communication is prompt, polite and productive.

But this ideal is not always easy to establish. Both editors and authors can be guilty of entering the relationship with barriers raised, and it can take little to turn a seemingly innocuous comment bubble into the site of a full-scale battle.

Conscientious editors can do a lot to avoid this kind of conflict, by establishing a productive and neutral foundation right from the very first email or phone call. Even if you aren’t able to pull the situation round to this ideal scenario, looking out for signs of what type of parent you’re dealing with can at least help you to avoid sabotaging the communication, help you to protect yourself from misunderstandings, and give the parent space to trust you and the editing process.

Types 2 and 3 are the more difficult types of ‘parent’ to deal with. I will give a summary of each and then some tips on how to deal with them.

Type 2: the overprotective parent

This kind of parent probably wishes they didn’t have to send their child to school at all. They believe that the teacher will either fail to teach their child properly or will somehow corrupt the child with ideas or conventions the parent believes are unnecessary or incorrect.

They defend to the death each suggested comma change and clarification of their esoteric written style. They swaddle their child in cotton wool and refuse to allow it to be disciplined it for its grammatical tantrums and obscure verbiage.

Dealing with this kind of parent/author:

  1. Look for clues as to why the author is acting in this way. It may seem like they’re simply being irrational, but they may previously have had a bad experience with an incompetent teacher or have heard about others’ bad experiences (in the same way as there is media hype about teachers, there is internet hype about bad editors). As a result, they may simply be nervous about what an unknown quantity will bring to their project.
  2. Explain why you’re an asset to the project. You don’t have to lay it on thickly, but you can do a lot by carefully communicating the benefits of what you’re doing. Subtle references to previous projects will establish your credentials and help to give the impression that your edits will be proportionate and sensible.
  3. Put the trowel down. It’s tempting to try to build walls between yourself and this kind of parent. If they continually question your decisions, it may feel like they’re interfering with your ability to do a good editing or proofreading job. To counter this, offer more information rather than less. Well-crafted, informative communication right from the start should establish a bedrock of trust that minimises the author second-guessing you as the project progresses.
  4. Use templates. The foundation of all this customised, carefully nuanced communication should be a solid set of email and style-sheet templates. Having the basics prepared in advance will allow you to spend all your time on the details that will make the author feel comfortable.
  5. Learn the art of compromise. English has very few true ‘rules’, and most publishers’ house style guides are malleable to a degree. Sometimes hopping off the bandwagon saves a lot of time without leading to any negative results for the project.
  6. Avoid jargon. Don’t assume that the author will understand abbreviations or complex grammatical terminology. If you do, you risk alienating them.
  7. Avoid being drawn into complex wrangles that will threaten the deadline and budget. Aim to answer queries and issues before they are asked, or avoid them being asked altogether by employing the trust-building tips in this list.

Type 3: the disinterested parent

What about when you find yourself in a situation in which you seem to care more about the student than the parent? When the parent seemingly doesn’t care how their progeny turns out?

This kind of parent drops their child off at boarding school and disappears on holiday or into their career, expecting to find the child perfected and socialised upon their return (or, worse, not even caring whether the child is socialised or not).

Requests to attend parent–teacher interviews go unanswered. Emails are acknowledged only after endless chasing.

Dealing with this kind of parent/author:

  1. Assess your ability to work in these restricted circumstances. There is nothing inherently wrong with going above and beyond standard proofreading or copyediting (editors, like teachers, should be able to deal with the unexpected and solve problems). But ask yourself two questions: (1) Are you qualified to do the job? Newly qualified teachers, or those working outside their specialist area, may struggle to deal with an unruly class. (2) Are you being adequately compensated for the work? If you’re doing extra fact-checking and looking up endless reference details the author should have provided, you should be compensated accordingly.
  2. State what you’re doing, even if you don’t expect a reply. It’s important to cover yourself, as you’ll likely find yourself making all sorts of decisions without authorial approval. Send summaries of all the main changes and why you’re making them, and keep copies of the tracked files. Keep the channels of communication open so the author has the opportunity to voice opinions if they wish.
  3. Watch out for trigger points. Disinterested authors have the potential to unpredictably mutate into overprotective authors. Be prepared to justify yourself if the author suddenly takes issue with a certain spelling variation or the hyphenation of noun + gerund compounds (for example). Deal with these incidents quickly and thoroughly to avoid the author becoming suspicious about the rest of your work.
  4. Learn to write awesome queries. A good query should be as succinct and clear as possible and ideally offer a solution or solutions for the author to pick from. Make your queries easy to respond to and non-threatening and you’re more likely to get a response.
  5. Appeal to a higher authority (traditional publishing). If the manuscript is in such a state that you simply cannot work on it without more input from the author, you might need to ask for the publisher to intervene with the author directly. Think of this as an appeal to a head teacher, who will likely be highly skilled in the politics of dealing with parents and will have more string-pulling power.
  6. Educate your client (non-publishers). If you’re working with a self-publisher or a business, you might not have a higher authority to appeal to. You may find it harder to explain to the author-client why you can’t do the job you were briefed to do without their input. However, to an extent this is part and parcel of the process of working with non-publishers, and you should have factored extra time into your original quote or have a contract that allows you to revisit the fee if the scope of the work changes. When educating your client about what you need from them and why, keep your explanations simple and focus on the benefits for the manuscript and the client rather than on how their replies will help you.
  7. Extreme measures. Occasionally you may find yourself with no alternative other than taking the parent aside and gently informing them that their child is an antisocial, illiterate thug who will probably never function usefully within society without extra help. I’ve never had to do this myself but I’ve come very close. There is no fixed solution in this situation, but options may include referring the author to a ghost writer or developmental editor. Ideally, you shouldn’t let the project get to this stage in the first place (your initial assessment should show whether the text is suitable for the level of editing you have been asked to provide). But sometimes it just happens.

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Just as a good teacher adapts their approach to each individual student and parent, so too must editors learn to tailor their communication to the needs of each particular client. Effective and adaptive communication is not an optional part of being an editor or proofreader. You are not a grammar-bot.

Have you encountered these types of author? How did you establish productive communication? Can you think of any other major types of author?

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Posted in Client relations, Editing, Proofreading, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Free co-mentoring for editorial professionalsTwo truths of editing are universally acknowledged: (1) editors are good at objectively reacting to work produced by other people and (2) no two editors will edit the same piece of text in the same way. Remember this – I’ll come back to it.

For many of us, being mentored – in other words, having our work scrutinised line by line, edit by edit, marginal squiggle by marginal squiggle – is something we haven’t experienced for some time. Others may have recently completed a mentoring scheme or other in-depth course but be very aware of how much they still have to learn. And yet others (myself included) may never have had the experience of being mentored, having learned in house or via courses.

Regardless of the route we’ve taken to get to whatever stage we’re at, what editorial tics might we have picked up or not shrugged off? What techniques or industry developments might we not quite have mastered? Obviously we continue to attend training courses and we habitually consult our preferred oracles, whether human, printed or digital (in other words, we engage in continuing professional development (CPD)). But, however conscientious and thoughtful we are, human error makes it likely that we have quirks and weaknesses of various kinds.

‘But,’ you may be thinking, ‘My work is assessed all the time by my clients. I’d know by now if I was doing anything terrible.’

Well, yes and no.

Firstly, you probably aren’t doing anything terrible. But you might be doing some things less well – or in a less clear or less efficient way – than you could be. Improving your clarity is good for your clients and improving your efficiency is good for your income.

Secondly, the assessment your clients carry out is likely very different from the in-depth, informed and constructive scrutiny that a mentor can provide. As I’ve pointed out, publishing clients are usually limited by time constraints (and perhaps by a lack of technical knowledge) to reacting to obvious errors only. And authors (whether in traditional-style publishing or author-as-client scenarios) are unlikely to have the necessary knowledge to make a proper appraisal. It’s likely that, as long as the freelancer hasn’t interfered with the content of the text, the author will be happy.

So what’s the solution? We can’t all afford to pay a mentor to conduct a review of our work, and in any case there wouldn’t be enough mentors available.

Enter co-mentoring for editorial professionals

At this stage I’m hoping some of you are assuming wise Yoda-like expressions, perhaps steepling your fingers for good measure, and muttering something along the lines of, ‘Ah yes, co-mentoring works very well / terribly; I would recommend it to everybody / I would never submit myself to such a horrific experience again.’

If so, great! (That you’ve tried it, that is, not that you had a terrible experience – if indeed you did.) Please tell us about your experience in the comments! I’ve personally never heard the concept mentioned in the editorial world, but I find it difficult to believe that no editorial professionals around the world have ever tried it.

However, in case others are unfamiliar with the idea, I’ll explain.

Co-mentoring involves a mutually beneficial agreement between peers to provide feedback on each other’s working practices. After the term popped into my head, I did some Googling, and it turns out that the concept is widely employed by such groups as doctors, teachers, academics and business professionals.

In the editing (or proofreading or indexing) world, this would involve swapping completed pieces of work with another freelancer and giving feedback.

To return (with due apologies to Miss Austen) to the two truths I mentioned at the start, editorial professionals are good at analysing and improving on what other people have done. And they are also all different; as Erin Brenner said in a recent article at Copyediting.com, ‘No two editors will edit the same way. We’ll make different decisions …. And no editor will know everything or be able to think of every possibility.’

So, editorial professionals (not just editors) are, in a way, natural mentors because we think analytically and we’re practiced at bringing a fresh perspective.

Some benefits

I haven’t yet tried co-mentoring myself – it’s just an idea that’s been bubbling away at the back of my brain. But I can think of many reasons I’d like to. I’ve touched on some above, but here are some more:

  1. It’s free training! All you’re giving in return is your time, and, provided you clearly agree the terms of the swap with your co-mentor (see below), you should receive feedback that’s equal in worth to the time sacrificed.
  2. There are plenty of online and offline sources of information where editorial professionals can ask specific questions. But the tricky thing is that you have to know (or stumble across something that points out to you) that you’re doing something a bit dodgy in order to ask the question in the first place. In contrast, a co-mentor will approach your work with those fresh editorly eyes we’re always harping on about to our clients.
  3. Evaluating another person’s work will give you the practice of seeing things from a client’s perspective. If you were sent this completed piece of work, what would you think? Would you find the edits or corrections clear, proportionate, appropriate, sufficient? Would you be troubled by any oddities in the application of the style guide? Would you find the queries clear and easy to answer? Carrying this mindset back to your own work can only be beneficial.
  4. You’ll likely learn about a few things you could be doing better, but you should also gain a confidence boost from getting feedback on some things you’re already doing well, or from being able to share your skills with your co-mentor.

Choose your co-mentor carefully

Obviously, not every partnership can consist of a fresh-off-the-bus hopeful and an editorial giant with skills honed to pen-point-sharp (or pixel-sharp) precision. But that would just be regular mentoring and the giant would get little or no benefit from the arrangement anyway.

Another fairly pointless partnership would be two professionals with entirely different specialisms (e.g. a proofreader of children’s fiction and a proofreader of physical-science textbooks).

However, I’d hazard a guess that all sorts of co-mentoring partnerships could be beneficial, and that a degree of difference of experience should be no barrier and could even be a benefit. For example:

  1. Editors with different but intersecting specialisms might be able to offer interesting insights into each other’s working practices. So, two editors who work in the social sciences might have different focuses but some crossover – perhaps one tends more towards the hard science end of the spectrum and the other more towards the humanities.
  2. Somebody with strong technical onscreen-editing skills who is trying to break into academic editing might form a productive partnership with somebody with years of academic editing skills who has struggled to cross over from paper editing.
  3. Different types of client require different skills and ways of working. Somebody with lots of experience with a certain type of client (e.g. businesses or self-publishers) might find that others value their knowledge and have equally desirable knowledge to offer in return.
  4. Editors are often asked to edit text to a certain regional variety (e.g. Australian, Canadian, UK, US) and many find themselves working on varieties that are not native to them. Having a native speaker as your co-mentor could help you to learn some of the finer points of the particular variety.

The great thing about co-mentoring is that it can be arranged to suit the two parties. Extremely experienced editorial professionals would be unlikely to benefit from anything more than a quick check-up every few years. However,  newer editors might like to swap with a co-mentor (or a succession of co-mentors) on a yearly basis as a kind of mutually supportive stock-taking activity and as one of the ways in which they consolidate the skills they’ve gained in the past year.

Avoiding disaster

Of course, there’s always going to be the possibility that you will have a bad experience. But common sense dictates that some simple precautions will minimise the risk.

  1. Make sure your co-mentor is someone you respect or that you feel will bring a particular slant or skill you value.
  2. Agree strict confidentiality. You don’t want to be worrying that your co-mentor will blab your slip-ups to other freelancers.
  3. Be honest with your co-mentor about your limitations and ask them to do the same. Co-mentoring involves shared learning and there is no obligation for either party to feel that they should ‘know everything’.
  4. Agree the scope of the scheme. Will you swap a chapter or a set number of words, or will you agree to spend a certain number of hours? Will you review other’s work against the client’s brief or style sheet or will you work ‘blind’?
  5. Will you stop at matters editorial or will you discuss other skills (e.g. technical, business)?
  6. Agree what follow-up time you’re each willing to give. Will you simply swap notes and then go your separate ways? Or will you discuss any differences in your working practices that have emerged, and investigate them jointly?

What have you got to lose?

It’s my strong gut feeling that co-mentoring cannot but make people better editors and proofreaders. We can all always do with a bit of extra insight and knowledge and a chance to reassess our skills in the light of comments from fellow professionals.

The idea of allowing another freelancer access to your work might be scary – but far less scary than a client one day picking up on one of your editorial tics and raising a serious issue about it.

I’d be really interested in hearing from anyone who’s tried this (whether you’re an editor, a proofreader, an indexer or a member of another word-based profession). Was it difficult to set up? Did you have to overcome any practical hurdles? Did you feel it made you better at your job? Was the experience of sharing feedback difficult in any way? What would you recommend to anyone thinking of trying co-mentoring? Please consider sharing your experiences in the comments!

Alternatively, if you and your co-mentor would be willing to write or be interviewed for an article on Editing Mechanics, please contact me by email (you can find the address on the contact page).

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Posted in Co-mentoring, Editing, Indexing, Proofreading, Training | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The hub of the wheel: the editorial project managerIn my previous post I gave some tips for freelance editors, proofreaders and indexers on how to keep getting rehired by clients. A contact subsequently suggested a mirror article on how those clients could improve in their dealings with freelancers.

Given that client relations are a perennial bugbear of freelancers, this seemed an interesting topic to tackle. So, here are my thoughts on what editorial project managers (PMs) – including me – can do to stop their freelancers jumping ship and swimming off towards more appealing prospects, and also how PMs can support the freelance community more generally.

For brevity I’ll shape my thoughts around a traditional publishing scenario, but my aim is for these points to be relevant to all sorts of contexts in which clients send text out to freelancers for them to work their magic.

1. Look at the manuscript

The first step in project management is to actually look at the manuscript, in detail, for at least the amount of time it takes to drink a cup of tea.

Read random chunks (not just sentences – whole paragraphs and pages). Ensure each chapter contains all mandatory elements (abstract, notes, references …). Check whether mentions of artwork match up with the images that have been supplied. Find examples of where the manuscript needs to be changed to conform to house or series style. Examine whether the referencing style is consistent. Look for clues as to whether the spellings and use of terminology are consistent and appropriate.

Granted, you won’t get to know the manuscript anything like as well as your freelancers (and you shouldn’t try). However, by carrying out these checks you’ll achieve five things:

  1. If anything major is missing, you’ll be able to chase it immediately.
  2. You’ll be able to write better briefs, and warn your freelancers of idiosyncrasies they might not have thought of (e.g. if they’re not as familiar with the series style as you are).
  3. You’ll gain a decent overview of the project and begin to learn what details you’ll need to keep an eye on as the manuscript passes from copy-editor to designer to typesetter to proofreader to indexer to printer (and perhaps others).
  4. You’ll be able to make reasonably sure the budget offered for the job is proportionate to the level of work that needs to be done.
  5. If there are any later wrangles over the budget, you’ll be in a better position to arbitrate fairly.

By doing all this, you’ll set yourself up to help your freelancers by being a true project manager, not an emailer-of-files-and-chaser-of-deadlines.

(I should insert a caveat here – that it’s possible for a PM to become too involved in a project; but that’s a subject for another post.)

2. Choose the right tools for the job

You might be more comfortable with your existing freelancers, but will they really do the best job with this particular subject matter? Your list of freelancers should include people who are competent in each of the subject areas you handle, especially if you deal with specialist material.

Trying to coerce a good result out of a group of people who don’t fully know what they’re doing sets everybody up for a bumpy ride and can only end in a poorer-quality product.

3. Tell your freelancers what you need from them

A good brief should be an essential part of the process of commissioning a freelancer, yet it’s one of the things freelancers most frequently bemoan the lack of.

Don’t be tempted to try to spell out too much in your brief – you’ll just tie yourself in knots, and a good freelancer should understand the basics of what’s required of them anyway. (That being said, if your publisher or institution doesn’t have a house style guide or a specification of freelancers’ responsibilities, you might want to go into a bit more detail about what the job entails than you otherwise would.)

Just remember that the point of a brief is to convey all the information specific to the particular book (or project) that the freelancer needs know to produce the result you want.

4. Treat your freelancers respectfully

In my previous post I commented on how freelancers should observe basic standards of polite communication. Naturally, the same is true of PMs.

Keep your freelancers informed whenever there are delays or changes of circumstances, and don’t assume that your project takes priority over everything else. Don’t be blasé about deadlines and expect the freelancer to move their workload around to catch up the time that’s been lost.

Many freelancers pull off extraordinary feats to help a client catch up a lagging schedule, but never assume that they will or can do so. Always request, as far in advance as you can, and always say thank you.

5. Be the hub of the wheel

Even if they don’t directly communicate, your freelancers and the author will need to convey information to each other. The PM’s role to sit in the middle of that process, acquiring information and dishing it out as appropriate.

So, if the author voices concerns about the manuscript when you email to introduce yourself, pass them on to the copy-editor. If issues come up during copy-editing that might affect later stages, make a note to include them in the proofreader’s and indexer’s briefs later. Make sure everyone receives the copy-editor’s style sheet. If an illustration is substituted, tell everybody. Make sure any queries that are passed on to the author (and vice versa) are clear and that they don’t come back unanswered. And anticipate problems wherever possible – don’t wait for things to crash to a halt.

If your freelancers are promptly given everything they need, they will be able to concentrate on the bit of the job they excel at: engaging with the manuscript.

6. Learn the lingo

I will cover the giving of feedback below, but even worse than a PM who doesn’t give decent feedback is a PM who doesn’t know whether a freelancer has done a good job (until, perhaps, a reader or the author complains). PMs come from all sorts of backgrounds, and some may be less familiar with the nitty-gritty of what copy-editors, proofreaders and indexers actually do.

Consider getting yourself some basic training in copy-editing, proofreading and indexing. Read freelancers’ blogs (some of the best are listed on the blogroll of Louise Harnby’s excellent Proofreader’s Parlour). Get into the habit of frequenting freelancers’ online haunts (e.g. forum boards, LinkedIn groups, Twitter).

Investing just a little time in these things will enable you to make better connections between what you want as a client and what freelancers are trying to bring to the job (these should be the same thing but they’re frequently not, and each side can learn from the other).

This will help you to (a) more effectively communicate the result you want from freelancers, (b) assess freelancers’ work better and (c) give feedback that engages with freelancers’ concerns.

7. Never, ever use a freelancer (or other supplier) as a scapegoat

If the worst happens and the author (or someone else) accuses one of your freelancers of interfering with or neglecting the manuscript, don’t automatically go on the offensive against the freelancer. It’s easy to do this almost without realising.

Instead, step back and avoid taking a side at all. Ask for some time to review the issue and speak to the freelancer. Ask for her take on the author’s complaints (supported by her examples from the manuscript, if appropriate). Consider whether responsibility for the problem might partly or wholly lie elsewhere. Rarely will you find that it’s an open-and-closed case of freelancer negligence.

If, as is likely, it turns out that the picture is more balanced than the author originally presented it, politely say so. Naturally, the publisher will be concerned not to get on the wrong side of the freelancer, but this must be balanced with a concern for the freelancer’s interests. The freelancer should not lose out because of ill-founded accusations, and in this kind of situation (in which the freelancer usually has very little power or voice) it’s your responsibility to politely but firmly advocate for them. Doing anything else is unprofessional and unfair, when the freelancer’s reputation and career are potentially at stake.

8. Recognise that you’re nurturing the freelancers of tomorrow

Naturally, all freelancers have a responsibility to get themselves trained and keep their skills up to date. And there’s a minimum standard of competence that a PM will accept. However, the attitude that the freelancer must bring everything to the table while the PM brings very little is only productive up to a point. There are certain expectations and details that freelancers can only learn from interaction with and feedback from PMs – essentially, from learning on the job.

If you treat freelancers as disposable commodities, and don’t offer them the support or remuneration they need to progress in their careers, they will go elsewhere, or else fail to reach their potential and drop out of the business altogether.  This can lead to a culture of high turnover with few freelancers going on to become true experts.

In addition, there’s a whole other non-traditional market for editors out there (among self-publishers and businesses), and more and more editors are realising that this group can offer great rates of pay and, in many cases, a closer and more rewarding working relationship. At its most extreme, this could create a dearth of talent for the more traditional forms of publishing.

So:

  1. Always give feedback. Whether it’s good or bad (probably a bit of both), feedback is a gift and enables the freelancer to improve her own skills and do a better job for you next time. I’m as guilty as anyone of failing to make time to send proper feedback, but it’s something we should all be doing.
  2. Whenever you can, keep hiring the same freelancers. If one does a less-than-brilliant job, don’t dismiss her out of hand. Offer constructive feedback and work a little more closely with her in the next project than you usually would. The step up from theory-based qualifications to understanding what real-life publishers and PMs need is huge, and who’s going to give the freelancer a helping hand if not for those very publishers and PMs?
  3. Whenever you have any influence over the budget, use it to ensure that the freelancer gets a fair rate for the work. If the freelancer finds herself having to do more work than originally anticipated, advocate for her with the powers that be and try to get her rewarded for that work. You’ll gain a loyal freelancer who feels that it’s worth going the extra mile in future.

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It’s been interesting to consider what I’ve seen work and not work, and what I could do better in my own working practices. However, there will certainly be aspects that I’ve missed, so please do add your thoughts on what makes a good PM in the comments.

Posted in Client relations, Project management | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

How to make your publishing client love youHere’s the situation: you’ve got yourself onto a publisher’s list and, after a few months, you receive an email offering interesting work at a great rate of pay. You accept the job and complete it on deadline and to the best of your abilities, and the project manager (PM) seems happy (or, at least, you don’t receive any negative feedback, which is often the best feedback a busy PM has time for).

And then… nothing.

You don’t hear from that client again and are left feeling disappointed and perhaps even unsettled, wondering how you scuppered your chances of follow-up work .

Often, this is just the way the game works. The more established freelancers realise this and accept that some opportunities will lead to a regular gig and in others they’ll just be a stand-in. There are all sorts of reasons – none of them anything to do with a freelancer’s skills – that might mean they aren’t rehired. For example:

  1. They might have been hired to fill a gap when other freelancers were unavailable (most commonly during holiday seasons).
  2. They might have been hired because the PM needed a specialist in a particular subject. Until that specialist subject crops up again, the PM might be comfortable returning to their regular pool of freelancers.
  3. Conversely, the book might have been a one-off that didn’t require a specialist, and the freelancer may not be suitable for the more technical subjects the PM usually handles.
  4. The PM might be relatively new and be trying out various freelancers rather than settling with the first ones they stumble across.

But, of course, it’s also entirely possible that the freelancer might not have been rehired because they did fall short in some way. And not necessarily in as concrete a way as making a mistake – there are all sorts of more nebulous ways of failing to make a good impression.

In my previous posts I explained why getting onto a publisher’s list might not be a golden ticket to getting work and offered some advice on using LinkedIn to bump yourself up to the top of the pile.  This post contains tips to help you make the most of the above kinds of opportunities and make sure you dazzle the PM so much that they’re falling over themselves to rehire you (or, if they can’t rehire you for whatever reason, that they remember you for the future or perhaps recommend you to other PMs).

So, here we go.

1. Do a really solid, consistent and thoughtful job…

Going the extra mile is great and certainly earns brownie points if you’re trying to impress a new contact. But, when I commission a freelancer, I’m mainly looking for a thorough, consistent job that follows the brief and style guide.

Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make clever, complex changes to the manuscript and missing the more basic stuff. The complex changes may not be wanted by the publisher or author in any case (and, even if they are theoretically desirable, it may already have been judged that there’s insufficient time or budget to implement them). By all means query whether the complex changes are wanted, but the most important thing is to do the job that was agreed, on time, and to a standard that leaves the PM no clean-up work to do afterwards.

2. … and prove that you’ve done so

Don’t expect that the PM will thumb (or click) lovingly through every page of the manuscript, exclaiming in delight at all the wonderful decisions you’ve made and how you’ve consistently ensured that all ‘pseudo-‘ compounds are closed. The more likely scenario is that they will give the manuscript a quick check for obvious errors and to ensure that you’ve followed the brief, and then send it straight on to the next stage in the process.

A style sheet is therefore a fantastic advocate of your skills. Even if you haven’t been asked for one, supply one. It will emphasise that you’re a professional who works systematically and knows what to look out for. Even if the PM only gives it a cursory glance, its thoroughness and organisation could leave an excellent impression.

If you’re proofreading, for which a ready-made style sheet might have been supplied, consider sending a set of brief notes or an addendum to the style sheet along with the completed job. Your ability to pick out and helpfully summarise the points that the PM really needs to know will speak volumes.

3. Observe basic standards of polite human communication

This one should be a given, but (thankfully occasional) experiences have shown me that this is not always the case. When I’m working with a freelancer, I don’t need or want them to bow to my every whim – I believe the best working relationships are based on partnerships, not hierarchy. But don’t make your PM dislike you.

Here are some basic don’ts to keep in mind:

  1. If you have an opinion, give it. But accept that, even if you’re ‘right’, you may be overruled as a consequence of other factors. Don’t continue to argue your case – all you’ll do is irritate the PM. As An American Editor recently reminded us, what the client says always goes.
  2. If the PM discovers that you’ve made a mistake and emails or calls you to discuss it, don’t try to obfuscate your way out of it. Instead, think of the situation as an opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism. Apologise, request the opportunity to put the mistake right and briefly explain what went wrong and why it’ll never happen again. That way, you’re far more likely to salvage the relationship.
  3. Everyone likes a good comradely moan every now and then, but there are limits. Don’t gripe unduly about factors the PM can do nothing about (for example, a publisher’s fixed rate of pay). Overly negative people are draining to work with.

If you’re truly brilliant, you’ll likely be able to get away with having a few more prickles than average. But realistically, all other things being equal, a PM is going to prefer people who are pleasant to work with.

4. Make your PM feel like they’re barely managing the project

A PM who feels that their freelancer can be trusted to work independently is a happy PM. This means:

  1. only asking those queries you can’t answer on your own (ask something that’s answered in the brief at your peril!) and
  2. phrasing your queries in such a way as to make it easy for the PM to answer (where possible, offer a set of alternative solutions for the PM to pick from).

Whatever you do, don’t avoid asking necessary questions (indeed, always err on the side of caution – much better to circumvent a potential misunderstanding early on). But do ensure that your queries give an impression that you’ve thought the issue through and that you aren’t just uttering a general cry for help.

5. The deadline is the most important few words on the brief

This doesn’t mean that the deadline should be adhered to at the expense of all else (sometimes moving it is the only option). But it does mean that the deadline should always be your first thought when a complication arises.

If you realise you might not be able to meet it, let your client know straight away. It’s better to warn the PM that the deadline might slip and then turn the job in on time anyway than it is to steam on in the hope of catching up and then find yourself having to send an apologetic last-minute email. The former scenario allows the PM to make a backup plan and inform everyone else who needs to know that there might be a delay. The latter leaves her scrabbling to find solutions and makes it less likely that other parties will be able to accommodate the change. What seems like an insignificant few days could lead to a book missing its allotted window at the printer and consequently not being ready in time for an important promotional spot at a conference.

6. Don’t irritate the author

If your role involves direct contact with authors, consider this: if you annoy the author, you’re pretty much automatically going to annoy the PM, because the PM will have to deal with the fallout. I strongly believe that an irritated author is an author who has been on the receiving end of bad communication (or not on the receiving end at all – that might be the problem). Keep the author informed about what you need from them and when, let them know what you suggest changing and how the changes will be beneficial for the book and the reader, and take the time to address their concerns. That way, you’re extremely unlikely to have a supposedly ‘difficult’ author on your hands.

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In summary, the first project with a new client is always the most important. If you mess up, that’s your chance gone: with no good track record, the client will have no reason to give you a second chance. And, equally, just doing a good job might not be good enough – average will not make your name stick in the PM’s mind. So, remember that your communication is as important as the quality of your work, and your client will love you for it.

What have you found works in terms of getting new clients to notice you and getting established clients to keep sending you work? If you’re a PM, are there other things that freelancers do that you find particularly helpful?

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Note: you may have spotted that I’ve now officially named my blog Editing Mechanics. After a couple of posts, the direction I wanted to take the blog in became more clear, hence the new graphic at the top. I hope you like it!

Posted in Client relations, Editing, Getting work, Indexing, Project management, Proofreading | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

LinkedIn image proofreadingBeing an editorial project manager (PM) can feel a bit like being a very delicious, but very forbidden, cake. When I tell other freelancers that part of my work involves hiring copy-editors, proofreaders and indexers, I sometimes find myself the object of longing glances from those who seem to feel themselves starved of work. However, I’ve met enough freelancers to know that a person’s talents may not be equal to the amount of work they are receiving – it may be how they are presenting themselves that is to blame.

In my previous post, I explained how I research prospective freelancers and how simply being on a publisher’s list isn’t enough for me to offer someone work. I often find myself looking on LinkedIn – it’s free to set up and can hold all sorts of information, so it’s an obvious and easy way for freelancers of all kinds to find out more about each other. So, this post concentrates on what I look for when I view a freelancer’s LinkedIn profile.

I’m going to be brutally honest about what keeps me reading a profile and what turns me off. But first, a few caveats:

  1. I’m not going to talk specifics about qualifications or experience (though obviously I’m assuming you have some), because these can come in many shapes and forms.
  2. This list is approximately in order of importance for me, but naturally other PMs may have a different order, or even entirely other requirements altogether.
  3. I am not claiming to be an expert on LinkedIn or marketing (I almost certainly break some of these ‘rules’ myself) – this is just part of the process I personally go through when I’m looking for a freelancer.

So, with that understood, here’s my list.

1. Give detail…

The first thing that hits me is how comprehensive the profile looks as a whole. Cursory filling in doesn’t look like you value your career as a freelancer, and tells me that you may put a similar lack of effort into your work.

Bottom line: Setting yourself up a skeleton LinkedIn profile ‘just so you’ve got one’ does you no favours (and may even serve you worse than not having one).

2. …but don’t make me wade through an essay

If I have to scan your profile for more than a few seconds (yes, seconds) before something interesting or noteworthy catches my eye, I’ll look elsewhere. Pick the best few facts about you (your unique selling points) and make sure they stand out. Then go into the details further down.

Bottom line: Editorial freelancers are paid to make text comprehensible and accessible for their intended readership; a poorly organised profile suggests your copy-editing, proofreading or indexing may be equally haphazard.

3. Show that you’re not an ostrich

OK, so ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand. But you get the analogy.

There’s no one way to demonstrate your non-ostrich nature, but I want to see some sort of evidence of professional development and connection to the wider editing world. Details of qualifications and courses are obviously a must, as is a list of previous clients. In terms of connections with other professionals, memberships of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders or Society of Indexers are excellent examples, but a link to an active, editorially relevant Twitter account can also speak volumes.

Bottom line: You may have twenty years of editing experience but, if it looks like you haven’t set foot on a course or spoken to other editorial professionals in that time, I will doubt whether your skills are up to date.

4. Shout about your specialisms…

There’s a fine line between listing an impressive range of specialisms and listing too many. Yes, you may genuinely have masses of experience and be comfortable editing a wide range of subjects. Yes, many books (and other texts) don’t require knowledge specialists so it makes sense to list all the subjects you’re comfortable with to maximise your chances of getting hired. However, a long and indiscriminate lists just says to me that you’re a jack of all trades and a master of none.

Even if I don’t necessarily need a specialist for a particular project, if I can, I always prefer to find someone who is interested and experienced in the subject matter, as they tend to do a better job. And, of course, occasionally I really do need an expert on periodicals published in Spain between 1830 and 1838 (for example). And bear in mind that, when a specialist is needed, the rates are sometimes higher, so it makes sense to make yourself identifiable for those jobs.

Bottom line: If you simply give one long list, I might wonder whether you’re desperate for work (which indicates that you may not have done a great job for other clients in the past).

5. …and about anything else that might be relevant

Make sure you mention other expertise, such as languages, previous careers, major skills and other accomplishments. The beauty of being an editorial professional is that there are as many book subjects as there are interests, so you never know when a PM might be looking for an editor or indexer with your particular knowledge. (That being said, remember the advice in points 2 and 4 and be discerning about what expertise you list.)

Of course, your area of expertise may be very narrow and you may only get a commission in that particular subject once every few years. However, even if your expertise is only tangentially related to the subject matter of the book, it could still give a PM an idea of the way you think and whether you might be a good match for a particular project.

Bottom line: Your non-editorial/indexing experience might give you the edge over another freelancer, so shout about that too.

6. Don’t look scary

Poor profile pictures come in two varieties: unsettling and absent.

People choose some truly bizarre images as their professional face to the world. Yes, some freelancers’ profiles are so dazzlingly good that they could use a photo of themselves gleefully holding up a chainsaw and the mutilated remains of a dictionary. However, the rest of us need to be a little more cautious. Just make sure you look approachable and friendly, not uncomfortable, miserable or angry (I have seen examples of all three).

Unsettling images may be offputting, but an absent image is the first thing I notice about a profile. It gives an immediate impression of half-heartedness or incompleteness (see point 1). If you need more convincing, take a look at this article in Business News Daily, which reported a study that showed that

a picture made candidates seem more thorough in their work. Additionally, … respondents wondered if candidates without pictures might be hiding something.

An alternative to using an image of yourself is of course to use your business logo. However, I’d urge you to have a picture of yourself somewhere too. The reality is that a prospective client will feel more comfortable if they can visualise the person to whom they may be entrusting thousands of pounds (and perhaps their life’s work in the case of individual authors).

Bottom line: A freelancer’s image (or lack thereof) won’t stop me from hiring them, but their profile will need to be better to keep my attention.

7. Other things can help, too

LinkedIn offers all sorts of other features that can lend support to a good profile. For example, high-quality recommendations from reputable sources naturally look very good. However, they can be a faff to get hold of so I’m not particularly bothered if a freelancer doesn’t have any (though other PMs and other types of client may think differently).

The endorsement system looks pretty but I find it rather too random to be meaningful (not to mention that it’s prone to abuse, well-meaning or otherwise).

Bottom line: Use LinkedIn’s other features intelligently, according to the client base you’re marketing to.

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I am not inflexible if somebody stands out for other reasons, and I know wonderful freelancers who break all these criteria. But, seeing as setting up a good LinkedIn profile is free and easy to do, why wouldn’t you?

Essentially, when a PM looks at a LinkedIn profile (or any profile), they have one aim: to find the right person, quickly. Help them to speedily become confident that you’re the one for the job and you’re far more likely to be offered work.

In my next post I’ll talk about what leads me to re-hire a freelancer .

Do other PMs look for similar things? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Posted in Editing, Getting work, Indexing, Popular posts, Project management, Proofreading | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

As a copy-editor, proofreader or indexer, you may think that getting yourself onto a publisher’s list is the Holy Grail of freelancing  and will be enough to get you hired regularly.

However, it’s often the case that the people on publishers’ lists who receive regular work have done so for years, and always work with the same contacts. Newbies to the list, and freelancers whose contacts move on, may find themselves languishing at the bottom of the pile, receiving little or no work.

I’m a freelance editor and project manager, and as such I both try to get myself hired and hire other people. So, I’ve occasionally experienced that frustrating languishing feeling myself, but also found myself rejecting the same names on publishers’ lists time after time, project after project.

Let me explain why this might happen and what you can do about it.

Pin the tail on the donkey

Hiring a freelancer from a publisher’s list can be a bit like playing 'pin the tail on the donkey'I shepherd between 10 and 15 books a year through copy-editing, typesetting, indexing and proofreading. As such, a big part of my day-to-day job consists of hiring other freelancers to carry out these tasks.

I’m very experienced at what I do, but I’ve only been freelance since 2009 and so often find myself hiring freelancers ‘blind’ – with no experience of working with them and no personal recommendation. Great for the people on the list who aren’t getting hired, you might think. But not so fast.

Before approaching someone with a job offer, I do a fair bit of research. Aside from the fact that I want to get the best and most suitable freelancer for each project, I could be working with this person for several months, and the fallout from them doing a bad job could make my life seriously irritating for much longer than that. I know this because, though the majority of my subcontractees have been fabulously talented and delightful specimens of humanity, a small minority have caused delays and hours of painstaking work to set right what they should have got right first time.

This is not my idea of fun, and in any case I value my evenings and weekends. So, like I say, I do research in an attempt to avoid this minority.

My starting point is often the above-mentioned publisher’s list of approved freelancers. But here’s my secret: I will not hire you just because you’re on a publisher’s list. However stringent publishers’ vetting procedures, there are people on lists who are less good than others (and a tiny minority who leave me wondering how they ever got on the list in the first place).

So, lists are a great starting point. But they are not enough, for three reasons:

  1. They are usually less comprehensive than broader directories (more on these below), having only a few fields of information and fairly basic details about people.
  2. Publishers don’t have time to keep their lists fully up to date with freelancers’ evolving specialisms and experience. And, equally, you usually can’t tell if someone did all their qualifications in 1985 and hasn’t updated their skills since.
  3. Such lists give no sense of the person – until you see how someone presents herself in her own words (how careful she is, how detail-oriented, how logical), you can’t really judge between her and another candidate.

When I hire someone, I want more information about them than a name, a brief list of qualifications and a list of subjects. So, once I’ve narrowed down my choices, I do more research by looking the candidates up in other sources.

So, just who are you?

The main sites I look at (note that I’m working from a UK perspective here) are:

  1. Directories such as those of the Society of Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and the Society of Indexers
  2. Freelancers’ own websites
  3. LinkedIn

All three allow a lot of detail and can be updated often. All three can serve as fabulous advertisements of a freelancer’s skills. And all three make the jobs of people like me much easier, in terms of matching up freelancers and projects.

The best sources are the SfEP and Society of Indexers directories. They provide all the key information, with the bonus that I know that the freelancers listed (a) will be qualified and experienced and (b) take themselves seriously enough as editorial professionals to pay to advertise their services. But sometimes I don’t find a freelancer on these sites – because of the cost, some excellent freelancers may not find it financially worth it.

Freelancers’ own websites are another great source of information. However, they can be costly and time consuming to set up (though they don’t have to be). Another factors is that I would never find a freelance directly through their site – i.e. by Googling. I would always go to the site for more information after finding the freelancer through another source.

The third option, LinkedIn, is therefore where I often find myself looking. And it should be an obvious starting point for many freelancers. It’s free and easy to set up, it’s easily searchable and it can hold all the information anyone would ever want to know about you.

But here’s where I often get stuck, and where those same names on publishers’ lists end up getting rejected again and again. A LinkedIn profile is a basic first step for letting people know more about you and your business, yet it’s amazing how many freelancers don’t have one (let alone their own website or a directory entry). I frequently try to research freelancers whose names I’ve found on a publisher’s list, only to find absolutely no trace of them anywhere in the great ether of cyberspace.

So here’s the point of this post.

You may be the most brilliant, highly qualified and helpful freelancer I could ever hope to work with, but, if I can’t get a sense of that from the information that is available about you, I won’t offer you work. You don’t necessarily need a fancy website or an entry in a professional directory (though both certainly help to make you look more professional and legitimate). Just make sure you’re findable somewhere and that, when you’re found, you’re represented as well as you can be.

In my next post I’ll explain what I look for in a freelancer’s LinkedIn profile.

Are there other project managers out there who experience this problem researching freelancers? Or are you a freelancer who’s found that joining LinkedIn or another directory has got you work (or not!)?

Posted in Client relations, Editing, Getting work, Indexing, Popular posts, Project management, Proofreading | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments