Practice makes (closer to) perfect

Imagine that you’ve recently completed some solid training in proofreading and/or copy-editing, and you’re looking forward to your new existence as a fully-fledged editorial professional. But wait! How can you be sure you’re correctly applying all that you’ve learned? 

One of the best places to learn is on the job, but this can be particularly stressful when you’re starting out. You want to be sure you’re doing the best work you can for a paying client – not only to offer them a good service for the money, but also to secure repeat business.

Here are some tips for getting valuable proofreading or copy-editing practice when you’re starting out, or if you’re expanding into new areas – without risking your reputation on a live job …

You can read the full post on the SfEP blog.

photo 2016 cropped

Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008.


Pricing editorial work – SfEP conference session preview

I’ve been invited to present in a ‘Speed start-up: what newbies need to know’ session at the SfEP conference in September on the subject of pricing work, alongside Sue Littleford (Numbers for word people) and Louise Harnby (Banishing the marketing heebie-jeebies). Here’s a taster of my section of the session.

This post was originally published on the SfEP Blog.

Pricing editorial work comes up time and again in discussion between editors. In the session I’m going to look at the basic process of quoting for work, which can be applied across a range of situations. The same principles can also be used to work out if a fixed fee offered by a client is fair.

1. Assess the information provided about the work
The client should provide you with the project parameters, including extent or word count, schedule, level of editing required, and so on. They might suggest a price, or they might ask you to quote.

2. Ask for more information if you need it
You can’t accurately price work without adequate information and a sample of the text. If the client will not provide the information you need to price the work, proceed with caution!

3. Work out what your work is worth
To work out a price for the work, you can take the hourly rate you need/want to earn, multiply it by the length of time you estimate the job will take, and add on contingency to arrive at a total fee. Alternatively you can quote what you think the work is worth to the client. Other factors can influence the figure, such as the particular market, or the time frame allowed for the work.

4. Use data from previous projects/colleagues to help you
To enable you to estimate how long a job will take, it is essential to keep records of work you do. If you are asked to quote for work unlike anything you have done, you can ask colleagues for advice – for example, in the SfEP forums.

5. Prepare a quote, making clear what it covers
When you provide a price, you should also indicate what this price includes. For many publishers, this will be fairly straightforward, as they are likely to be commissioning you for a commonly understood part of the process such as copy-editing or proofreading. For a non-publisher, you will need to ensure they know precisely what they are getting for their money, and importantly what is not included.

6. Prepare to negotiate
If your client suggests a price, don’t be afraid to ask for more if you think the work warrants it; equally, if you suggest a price, be prepared for the client trying to negotiate down.

7. Agree terms with the client, and start work
Make sure you have the agreed price and the scope of work in writing before you start work. If anything changes that might affect the price, raise this with your client as soon as possible.

In the session I’ll be looking in more detail at each of the stages – with particular focus on working out what the job is worth – and taking questions. There will also be a handout with further information and links to resources to help you at each stage of the process.

photo 2016 cropped

Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008.

Brexitproofing for the freelance editor

Apologies for the clickbaity title. I actually don’t have any firm strategies for Brexitproofing other than the endless round of checking news outlets and social media every ten minutes or when the phone emits a buzz, frowning/shouting at the screen/cackling sadistically, taking a break to sob into my coffee, then remembering I still have work to do.

But yesterday I wrote on Twitter ‘what can we do as freelancers but what we always do – spread the risk and be adaptable’. This is what I am trying to cling on to, in these very, very uncertain times.

  • Freelancers do have an important attribute in such times – we are flexible. One thing I found in the last recession, ongoing when I launched my business, was that this did help in terms of finding work. Even when we negotiate good terms, freelancers represent comparatively economical labour for clients.
  • My way of attempting to spread risk is to cultivate good relationships with a range of clients, and not become too dependent on any particular one. This is a good strategy all the time, not just in times of possible crisis.
  • Now is perhaps a good time to seek out new avenues of work. On the positive side, it strikes me that even while things burn, one thing we are not short of right now, and for the foreseeable future, is an abundance of words being generated as a result of the whole sorry debacle.
  • However, whether anyone will have the means to pay for these words to be edited with anything more than a handful of Baked Beans is yet to be determined.

I should add at the end here that, like everyone else I know, I am terribly worried about what happens next. Who knows how our clients will fare? And what about clients in the EU? As well as the financial implications, the whole reputation of the country is in question (does it still have one?). The cultural implications are huge. And I am worried not just for me, and others like me, but for the whole of the country, in all sorts of ways, far beyond financial considerations. These are startling times. As ever, as so many of us do, I am writing to try and make sense of things. But this time, I am not even sure it’s possible.

Photo on 02-09-2015 at 13.12Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She doesn’t want to turn this blog into a place for political rantings, but will confine herself to commenting in a rather British fashion that she’s not best pleased right now.

Thoughts on the SfEP professional development day for fiction editors

On Thursday 9 June I attended a professional development day for fiction editors, run by the SfEP, along with more than 60 other delegates.

I’m not a specialist fiction editor. Most of my work is on trade non-fiction and educational resources. However, I do currently copy-edit and proofread fiction for a few publishing clients, and enjoy the work very much. I am also an avid reader of fiction, and a writer of fiction (work-in-progress).

What did I hope to get out of the day? Well, I was intrigued to find out more about going further than a basic copy-edit. Although I’ve been an editor for the best part of twenty years, and am confident working at all stages of the publishing process when it comes to non-fiction, I wouldn’t yet dream of offering developmental editing for fiction, for example – I think it’s incredibly difficult to get right, and I simply don’t know enough in this area to be able to make someone else’s story sing off the page in terms of the larger structure. I am still learning how to do this for myself. Perhaps it’s something I’ll want to offer when I have more experience.

So I suppose I wanted an insight into how editors work earlier on in the process, as an interested editor in related fields, and also as a writer-in-training – and I wasn’t disappointed. The programme was varied and interesting throughout – not easy to pull off when catering to a large crowd of editors with varying degrees of experience, from more-or-less complete newbies to people who’ve worked on fiction for decades.

Should you take the job?

The first speaker was Andrew Wille, who spoke on the subject of whether the editor should take the job – and if they do take the job, how much they should intervene, and what needs to be done to the text. He talked about the different levels of editing (from development editing, to line editing, copy-editing and proofreading), and emphasised that as editors offering a service, we must be clear about what we can and can’t do. He also spoke of the importance of being able to communicate with writers in a common language. Communication is so important, and he pointed out that often a phone call can be preferable, with this kind of work, to an email conversation – and at points in the work, a face-to-face meeting is even better if at all possible. This is something I definitely need to be reminded of sometimes … it’s too easy, in my experience, to become dependent on email.

The craft of writing

Next was Emma Darwin, who I (and I suspect many others in the room) had been looking forward to on account of her fantastically interesting and useful blog, This Itch Of Writing – required reading for any student of writing or editing fiction. She talked about how, as editors, we need to translate our instinctive reactions to a piece of writing into something the author can work with. Bearing this in mind, she took us through the elements that make fiction work, from asking ‘Whose story is it?’ and ‘What’s at stake?’ through the nuts and bolts of character and voice, point of view (yes, the point of view can be changed within a chapter if done well), structure, moving between scenes, show and tell (or, preferably, evoke and inform) and, crucially, psychic distance. The last is a subject that Emma often talks about on the blog as being crucial to how well a piece of fiction writing works, but I had struggled to understand it properly and was really helped by hearing her explain it on the day.

An author’s view of editing and editors

Elizabeth Fremantle then talked to us about the author’s experience of being edited, which was fascinating. It is always useful for us, as editors, to be reminded that we are dealing with what she described as ‘sensitive souls’ – and to be reminded of the amount of hard work and emotional investment that goes into a book. It’s not just words on a screen or a piece of paper – it’s perhaps years of someone’s life. She talked about the difference that finding a good editor (her ‘secret weapon’) had made to her career as an author, and how the editor could help the author think of themselves as a brand. She said she found it most useful not just be told what was wrong with a manuscript, but what she could do to fix it. Assertive editing is valued, and inspires confidence. Perhaps most importantly, she mentioned that when we give feedback to authors, it is helpful for us to start with the positives, and include comments on what we think is working, as well as what isn’t.

Assessing a manuscript

Loulou Brown, a longtime SfEP member and hugely experienced freelance editor, talked to us after lunch on the subject of assessing a manuscript, a service that she has provided for many authors. This might take place on its own, or as a precursor to a full edit.

Loulou started by saying how much she loved the work, and that she had ‘never read a completely boring story’. She talked us through her process for assessing a work, and reminded us that we need to think always of the reader, and that we should never underestimate the reader’s intelligence. She advocated reading on hard copy (ask the client to supply this), and reading the whole thing through once first before starting the assessment, perhaps making shorthand notes about particular problems such as repetition or anomalies. Loulou brought the idea of showing rather than telling vividly to life using an example of her own recent encounter with John Lewis customer services … which she must have done rather too well, as the audience were already giggling at her comparatively dry account to illustrate ‘tell’. By the time she got to the end of ‘show’, we’d got it, and had a good laugh along the way.

Again, Loulou mentioned the desirability of meeting with authors if possible. For me, this might be one of the fundamental differences between most of the work I do, as a non-fiction editor quite removed from the ‘action’ these days, and fiction work – there’s an extra level of personal engagement required. With non-fiction we must of course always be respectful of the text and the author’s intent … but perhaps there is less in the way of handling fragile hopes and dreams on a daily basis.

Writing a reader’s report

The final speaker of the day, Aki Schilz of The Literary Consultancy, talked at some length about dreams, and how her company provides reader’s reports that give honest appraisals of a manuscript in the context of the marketplace, and also in the context of the writer’s dreams and aims for the work. She talked about how the writer will only benefit if matched with the right editor (a service that she provides), and stressed the importance to their process of editorial objectivity, and of the editor being in service to the writer.

Again, when providing feedback to a writer, she said that it was important to remember that we are dealing with people’s dreams. The introduction of a report is important, because that is where the reader is engaged, and this will affect how they read and interpret the feedback that follows. The editor dealing with a work of fiction should be ‘clearing a path … shining a light’. So perhaps, in that respect, not so very different from any other kind of editor.

I came away from the day feeling that I had been learning throughout, and was better equipped to handle some of the things I might encounter when working on fiction. As well as the excellent presentations, there was also plenty of time to chat with other editors over coffee and lunch, catch up with friends and meet new people. All in all, a brilliant day, run faultlessly by the SfEP and specifically Jane Moody, the society’s professional development director. I can’t wait to go to another.

Photo on 02-09-2015 at 13.12Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008 – working mainly on non-fiction, but with increasing forays into the world of fiction.



Drawing lines


‘I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude!’ (The Big Lebowski, 1998)

Where do you draw the line? And whose line is it to draw, anyway?

Sometimes, as an editor, you will need to draw a line. Imagine you’re the copy-editor, and your client, a book publisher, has asked you to tone down the wildest excesses of an author’s ‘quirky’ sense of humour, while retaining the tone of voice – all the things that give the text its zip, and make it engaging. So as you work your way through the book, it’s up to you to decide what’s OK, and what’s not. Is that joke questionable? Might this image offend? Could the client be sued for letting that be said? Will the reader feel alienated? Are all the readers the same? And am I just being old-fashioned, or a pedant, or a prude? It can be very tricky.

This is why you have to step back sometimes, and check who you are editing for. Is the reader just like you? Or might they have slightly different sensibilities? Can the author be allowed to get away with more than you would feel comfortable with, if you were writing the book yourself? You have to try not to let your own preferences take over.

As with all things editorial, so much of this comes down to sensitivity – and judgement. It’s necessary as an editor to be sensitive to many things: context, tone of voice, prescribed style, things that need checking, possible legal problems, repetition, plagiarism … the list goes on and on. You need your feelers out, all the time. You’re on high alert! But you also have to avoid being oversensitive. Is the item in question really so risqué? Might it actually be the best and most concise way of making a point, or conjuring a very precise image in the reader’s mind? Might it simply be true to the author’s personality, even if not to your taste?

Editing is not some kind of crusade. We’re not here to beat authors over the head with a rulebook, to get them to conform and see the error of their ways, according to us, or to weed out opinions of theirs that we don’t really like. We should be trying to help them express their individuality (or why would anyone choose to read their book?) – but in a way that speaks clearly to as many readers as possible. Spreading their word, not our own. And one of the things that makes our job as editors so complicated – and so interesting – is that there’s usually more than one way of achieving that.

Photo on 02-09-2015 at 13.12Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She likes drawing lines in the sand, but is always careful to consider the context. No lugworms were harmed for this post.

Game of Thrones editing styles

I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan, so with season six about to start, I couldn’t resist a Thrones-themed post. It’s not just an immersive epic complete with an expansive universe and amazingly detailed back story, peopled by charismatic yet deeply flawed and often scantily clad characters, with lashings of dragons and White Walkers – it even has serious points to make about grammar. (Let’s just say that Stannis Baratheon wouldn’t be seen dead at the express checkouts in Tesco, even to avoid a massive queue.) 

But what – grammar pedantry aside – does GoT have to do with editing? Well, there is often more than one way to tackle an editing project … so which character do you feel like being today?

Jaqen H’ghar – It’s not just that he’s a brilliant assassin, and compellingly mysterious. He also has the most interesting approach to personal pronouns of any character on the show. If you really don’t like the first person, for example, I highly recommend channelling a bit of Jaqen H’ghar. And if the author doesn’t happen to agree with your edits, simply tear off your face in a theatrical fashion, mutter that you are ‘no one’, and give them the slip.

Key quote: A girl gives a man his own name?

Ygritte – I like to think of Ygritte as the character who reminds me to keep up with my CPD. OK, so I am not Jon Snow, and I do actually know quite a bit about editing, but accepting that there’s always a lot more to learn is probably a healthy attitude to have. Also, Ygritte is excellent at dressing for the cold, thereby setting an example for all editors who spend far too much time sitting still and wish to avoid a massive electricity bill.

Key quote: You know nothing, Jon Snow.

Cersei Lannister – The thing I like about Cersei is that she’s nothing if not ruthlessly decisive. She doesn’t always make the best decisions, true, but at least she just gets on with it and makes them. Also, she also understands the importance of picking one’s battles; a crucial skill for an editor as well as a queen trying to cling to power against the odds.

Key quote: A good king knows when to save his strength and when to destroy his enemies.

Lord Varys – Varys is a good example of someone who achieves a lot, ostensibly for the greater good, without letting his ego get in the way. He doesn’t seem to want power for himself, which is quite a rare attribute on Game of Thrones. He’s also an excellent listener, with a network of ‘little birds’ who keep him updated. If Varys were an editor he’d be most respectful of his author’s tone of voice, and he’d be keeping an eye on all the latest developments within his industry. He’d also pay his dues.

Key quote: Any fool with a bit of luck can find himself born into power. But earning it for yourself, that takes work.

Ser Jorah Mormont – If there’s one thing you need as an editor, it’s that Spidey sense for when something needs checking. An even more useful attribute would be actually knowing the answer to almost anything, instantly, without even having to google it. No matter what unfamiliar land he finds himself in, Ser Jorah always seems to just know things; it’s like he’s got a concealed iPhone about his person. (Not that there’s much in the way of 3G in the Red Waste. He must just be that good.)

Key quote: They are dragons, Khaleesi. They cannot be tamed, not even by their mother.

Daenerys Targaryen – What can I say? If all else fails, you’re having a really bad day, and you’re backed into an editorial corner … just bring out the dragons.

Photo on 02-09-2015 at 13.12Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She usually tries not to mix editing with fantasy.


Editing presentation materials


A blank book dummy (souvenir from a former life)

It’s the London Book Fair next week, and one thing I have been doing recently is editing presentation materials. But what exactly are they, and what are they for? And what do you need to tackle this kind of work?

My most recent experience in this area has been for trade book publishers producing co-edition books (books published simultaneously by more than one publisher), so that’s what I’m talking about here.

What are presentation materials, and what are they used for?

I use the term ‘presentation materials’ to refer mainly to book dummies and blads, as well as AIs and cover copy – aka ‘the blurb’. The definitions I’ve given below are ones I have come across, but publishers’ practices vary, and the names they give things vary too.

  • A dummy book is a similar format (size) and extent (number of pages) as the intended finished product, and has been mocked up to look like a real book, in part – most of the pages will be blank and white, but it will have a cover that looks real, and selected pages that will also look real. The question that should concern the editor is – just how real do these elements need to appear? 
  • Cover copy may be produced at a very early stage in the book’s life, and needs to offer a taste of what is inside the book. It tends to be short; when you write it you obviously need to be selective about what you include. As a freelance editor, it’s possible you will be asked to write cover copy. It is much more likely that you will need to check it at proofreading stage, when it’s extremely useful to remember that it may well have been written long before the book itself. Does the finished version of the book still deliver on all the promises given on the cover?
  • An AI (advance information) sheet describes the content of the book, listing its features in some depth – sort of like a contents page with more detail – as well as its vital statistics (format, extent, number of words, number of images), and probably also including the blurb and information about the author(s) and/or illustrator(s). If you are asked to edit the AI, you will need to ensure that it contains clear, accurate and credible information. You may also need to get creative when it comes to detailing the contents of the unwritten book.
  • Finally a blad (book layout and design) is a document that will often be professionally printed on stock (paper) just like that of the finished book. As well as sample spreads from the book, the blad may contain advance information. Multiple copies of the blad will be printed and taken to book fairs and used in other sales situations.

In short, all of the above documents are tools for selling. Apart from the final incarnation of the cover copy, though, they are not tools for selling the book to the end reader in a bookshop or online. They are used to sell an idea to enable a publisher to commission the complete product, or to sell the rights to the finished product. Therefore the information included needs to be enticing, but it also needs to be clear and accurate, and give a fair representation of what the finished book will be like, and what makes it an attractive commercial proposition.

What might I need to edit?

To edit layouts for a dummy or a blad, you’ll need to work with text that has been placed in order to give an impression of the finished book. It may not be final, and it’s likely that you’ll need to do some writing to fill gaps – either to fit a space, or because captions are missing.

You may also need to roughly work out the pagination of a book in order to add folios to dummy pages, or to mock up a table of contents, or to write descriptive material about the book’s content for an AI. A good understanding of the anatomy of a typical book in the relevant genre will enable you to do this quickly.

Do I need particular skills or equipment?

Sales material is often produced in house in a flurry of excitement, long days, late nights and caffeine. The book fair looms, when everything must be ready. As a freelancer you don’t see most of this (which may or may not make you grateful). It means that you will often be commissioned at short notice and given a tight deadline. The publisher hopes you will grasp the requirements of the job quickly, carry it out with the minimum of fuss, and return it promptly. There will almost inevitably be a bit of back and forth to get it right, which you must deal with equally efficiently.

Some of the work, on dummies and blads for example, will require you to work in layout, which basically means you need InDesign – and you need to know how to use it (there won’t be time to figure it out on the job). Make sure you know what version of InDesign the publisher has, and if they want you to use the same, or if they are happy for you to send back IDML (InDesign MarkUp Language) files if you have a more recent version.

Because you need to assimilate information quickly, and it is likely that you will need to fill in gaps in material, it is important to be familiar with the market for which the book is intended. Everything that is shown needs to look right. It might not stand up to critical scrutiny, but it needs to appear real enough to convince anyone giving it a quick once-over. As with any other editing work, attention to detail is crucial. The person flicking through the dummy or AI is likely to know the market well, and any obvious errors such as typos or incorrectly spelled names will be instantly jarring, and may hamper the project’s chances of success.

I like doing this kind of work because as well as being fast and exciting (well, relatively!) it gives me an insight into a side of publishing that I don’t so often see these days as a freelancer – especially if most of what I do is copy-editing and proofreading, which are such discrete parts of the larger process.

The work sounds interesting – how do I get it?

My understanding is that much of this type of work may be passed to editors with strong in-house contacts. If you do have a good relationship with a publisher client who presents at book fairs, it can be worth reminding them from time to time about the types of work you can do – and this approach is of course useful in other contexts, too.

Find out when the major book fairs are, and try approaching publishers for work in the run-up to them. There is often extra, urgent work available at this time, and you might get lucky.

Finally, let clients know if you can use InDesign. If you do, it’s an important factor that can make you suited to these tasks.

Photo on 02-09-2015 at 13.12Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She’s glad she finally knows why a blad is called a blad, and wonders why she didn’t google it before.