April saw another visitor at Black Cat HQ – this time it was my parents’ spaniel, Ella. She’s always a joy to have around, and we were fortunate to have some good weather to enjoy on our walks. Oscar pretends to be a bit miffed when she’s here, but then they go and do disgustingly cute things, like holding each other’s paws while they sleep. I mean, just look at this nonsense.
What I’ve been working on
I finished off the three projects I started in March: the proofread of a contemporary romance novel, the copy-edit of a book of travel advice, and the critique of a sci-fi/fantasy novella. This is one of the things I really like about my job – there’s so much variety in the projects I edit. I moved on to the copy-edit of a memoir – I haven’t worked on a memoir for some time, but I was reminded why I do enjoy taking them on occasionally. There’s something quite special about helping someone share their memories and experiences with the world and leave a book as part of their legacy. The copy-edit of a biography of a notable dancer and the critique of some contemporary fiction will take me into May.
Ella will be back with us at the end of May, as my parents are jetting off for a relaxing holiday in Portugal. I’m not jealous. I’m sure the weather in Wiltshire will be perfectly lovely…
I had a visitor at Black Cat HQ for the beginning of March. My sister and her partner went off on holiday for a week, and so their furry pride and joy came to stay with me. Oscar, my cat, wasn’t particularly keen on sharing his house with a clumsy food-thief, but he managed to cope. Here’s Rocky looking tiny and adorable on the sofa he entirely took over – this is very much in contrast to what he looked like when he realised he could get a good look into the neighbours’ gardens from the top of my shed. It’s not easy to get a twenty-kilogram dog off a roof when he’s decided he quite likes it up there.
What I’ve been working on
I finished off the critique of the horror novella I started in February, along with the copy-edit of a contemporary novel. I moved on to the copy-edit of an epic historical saga set during the Albigensian Crusade. I was glad to have the copy-edit of a cosy(ish) noir short story for some light relief – and I look forward to working on the first novel in the series it introduces. The proofread of a contemporary romance novel and, unusually for me, the copy-edit of a book of travel advice will take me into April. There’s nothing like editing passages about glorious sun-filled holiday experiences while the rain beats against your office window… I also have the critique of a novella that is part of a sci-fi/fantasy series I’ve worked on previously – the other books are definitely epic in scope and length, so it will be interesting to see how the author handles this departure from the norm.
I’m trying out a new riding school in April – I’ve enjoyed my time at the old one, but it is a long journey for me to get there now I have moved to a different county. The new school is nestled in the countryside, and I have booked a hack as a taster – fingers crossed for some good weather.
I know what you are thinking: did Hannah survive her venture into wall climbing? I did, thank you very much. I am relieved to be able to say that I did make it all the way up on my first try – I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to drag myself up even halfway. I have to say that, once you get used to the height, it’s quite good fun to bounce your way back down again. Alas, my arm strength was sapped after an hour or so, and I can report that the crash mats in the bouldering centre do a pretty good job. I include a picture of the walls as evidence that I did go; that’s not me at the bottom, but the kind stranger provides a sense of scale. I was eating chips by this point.
What I’ve been working on
I’ve been back to full capacity this month, and it has been a little bit of a shock to the system. I finished the two projects I had from January – one the copy-edit of a family saga and one the critique of an epic fantasy novel. They couldn’t really have been more different. The critique manuscript sets up plot lines for multiple sequels, and I hope the author makes the decision to pursue them further. I moved on to the copy-edit of a substantial split-timeline thriller – I’m always impressed by the ability of authors to juggle events and characters as they weave a story through multiple time periods. That was followed by the copy-edit of a novel that sees the central character on a path to redemption after losing everything – I’ll be working on this one for a while longer and it will take up a good chunk of my time in March. I also took on a new critique manuscript – a horror thriller novella – and that will be on my desk a bit longer too.
A new editorial society
I have been thinking about how to maintain my continuing professional development in a way that’s somewhere between formal courses and just doing lots of reading. I’ve seen fellow editors on social media praising the seminars and workshops held by the the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), and since the yearly membership fee is only a little more than the cost of attending two of their webcasts, I thought I would join as a member. I have quite a few American clients, so ACES seems like it could be a good fit for me anyway. I look forward to exploring their resources when I have some time in the coming months.
I had a fairly quiet and relaxed start to the new year. It was nice to have a little unscheduled time (by which I mean I could have a lie-in more often), but life doesn’t appear to approve of that sort of thing and I soon had a poorly cat to contend with. He gave me a real scare for a while, but he seems much better now. Our new local vet was great and the staff were very kind to Oscar’s panicky human.
What I’ve been working on
I finished off the copy-edit of an epic fantasy/sci-fi novel that I’d started in December. I’ve spent a lot of time with the characters in the series by now and I am becoming very attached to them – I suspect this won’t end happily for me since the author is not afraid to trim the cast list… My next two projects will take me into February. The first is the copy-edit of a business-focused family saga from an experienced author for a publishing services client. The second is the critique of a work of truly epic fantasy, with a narrative voice that is unusual in modern fiction.
In an attempt to ‘get out there’ and do new things, I have booked a taster session at the local wall-climbing centre. Wish me luck…
This is the fifth December round-up for Black Cat Editorial Services, which seems like an achievement in itself. As is tradition, it is time to consult my project-tracking spreadsheet. It tells me that my 2022 projects had a combined word count of 2,873,453. That’s slightly down on 2021, but it takes my career total to more than 15 million words. Some of the drop is explained by my tutoring time increasing to 176 hours for 2022. A good chunk of that was down to the CIEP’s end-of-year discount on courses in 2021 – it was very successful in attracting new students – so I’m not expecting it to be so high in 2023.
What I’ve been working on
I finished the critique I had been working on – contemporary romance (even with elements of fantasy) is a little outside my wheelhouse, but it was enjoyable to work on something a bit different to my usual fare. I moved on to the copy-edit of a manuscript I had critiqued an earlier version of. It’s always a huge compliment when one of my critique clients asks me to take on the copy-edit of their revised work, and I love being able to see how the story and characters have developed in response to the feedback I gave previously.
My latest book review for the CIEP has been published. It was a pleasure to read Louise Willder’s Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A–Z of literary persuasion. It’s a book that can be read for fun and for a purpose – if you are an independent author who struggles to write cover copy, this would be a great place to look for inspiration.
I am fortunate to have some absolutely wonderful clients, and one of them is Ashleigh Bello. We first worked together during the first UK lockdown, when she was one of the precious indie clients who kept me going during that difficult period.
I’ve worked on five of her books in total and it has been one of the best experiences of my editing career so far. I think a great editor–author relationship is built on trust, honesty, team work, and humour, and we’ve pretty much got it nailed. It was a lovely Christmas present, then, to receive a copy of the beautiful paperback Ashleigh has produced for the first instalment in her epic fantasy series. I continue to be astonished by the quality of the cover art and I think it does justice to the world and characters she created.
Ashleigh’s very kind words made me a bit teary when I read them. I can’t really express just how much it means when a client takes the time to do something like this. It makes all the tough times worthwhile. I look forward to working together again soon. I know – spoiler alert – there’s a Belvedor prequel coming in 2023 and I can’t wait to find out what happens!
I didn’t have that much of a Christmas break this year, so I’ll be taking the opportunity to relax a little at the beginning of January.
November was my first month in my new home and it has taken quite a lot of adjustment. I’ve done a lot of cleaning and built a lot of furniture – but now I’ve got a bookcase with some space free in it! My books aren’t in piles! There have also been some trials, the most concerning of which was the not-working downstairs heating. I was very glad it was fairly mild early in the month. But it has been overcome, and I am pretty much back up and running (not literally – the occasional walk will do).
What I’ve been working on
I had an unusual proofread from one of my publishing services clients – a fictionalised memoir – and it was interesting to see how the author handled this concept. Where’s the line between truth and fiction? Does it matter? I suppose it depends on the reader and their expectations. My other project this month was the critique of a contemporary romance with a twist, and that will take me into December. I’ve also had a book to review for the CIEP – I’ll post a link to my review once it is published.
A new blog post
I mentioned the start of my editorial business in my previous round-up post and that prompted me to write a blog post about it. (I’ve titled it ‘Editing essentials’, which I might adopt as a series to go along with my sporadic ‘Fiction essentials’ posts.) How do I get started in proofreading? is a question that pops up a lot in editing forums, and I know I’m not the only editor to have people email them with similar questions. When I was a local group coordinator for the CIEP, we’d often spend a good chunk of our meetings talking about this – and I think that’s only natural. It is hard work and it is daunting, but it can be done. I wanted to share how I did it in case it helps anyone else at the beginning of their journey.
I will probably take a short break for Christmas and New Year’s, but I expect to be working through most of the festive period.
Every so often an email will drop into my inbox from someone who is thinking about starting a career as a proofreader, and so I thought it may be helpful to write up some advice based on my own experiences. This will, therefore, be UK-centric and presume that you want to be self-employed. It has been a while since I took my first tentative steps towards building my own editorial services business, but I can still remember the swirling mix of feelings. Here we go:
There is, I think, a popular idea that anyone who enjoys reading and who has a reasonable grasp of grammar can become a proofreader. That is a good foundation, but professional proofreading is complex – it is a skill that has to be learned. Training is key. I started with the Publishing Training Centre’s Basic Proofreading by Distance Learning course. As far as I’m aware, the Essential Proofreading: Editorial Skills One course is the current equivalent. I chose it because it’s an in-depth course that provides an industry-recognised qualification at the end, but there are other options out there. One is the proofreading suite from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (I am a tutor for the second and third courses). Anyway, I passed the PTC course with merit (I was less than one percent off a distinction mark – I ate a whole tub of Ben & Jerry’s Baked Alaska to console myself).
Many people start looking for work once they have completed their initial training, but I am a big ball of anxiety, so I felt that I needed to do more before I put myself out there. How could I ask someone to pay me for my work if I didn’t have confidence in it? So I took a sort of ‘bridging’ course from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (the previous name for the CIEP). At that time it was called Proofreading 2: Progress, but much of the material from that course is now in Proofreading 3: Progress. (Course providers like to have a shake-up every now and then!) That went well and I was able to join the mentoring scheme. I was beyond lucky to have Margaret Aherne as my tutor – she is a legend for a reason. The mentoring scheme is not open at the time of writing, but I know the CIEP plans to re-introduce it sometime in the future. I would certainly recommend it – it’s Margaret’s encouragement that gave me the confidence to take a skills test for a publisher, and that was when things really started rolling.
Join a professional body
One of the best decisions I made was to join the SfEP (now the CIEP). It provided a wealth of information and support, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. One of the great things the CIEP does now is discovery meetings. You can join one and ask pretty much anything you like about proofreading, editing, and the organisation.
There are so many resources out there and it is worth spending some time going through them and making a plan. Your business plan doesn’t need to be Dragons’ Den level, but a basic outline is a good idea – having a direction and knowing what steps you need to make will help you to achieve your overall goal of a successful business.
If you’ve joined the CIEP, you’ll get access to all their wonderful guides. These are probably the most relevant for our purposes:
Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business, Sue Littleford
Marketing Yourself: Strategies to promote your editorial business, Sara Hulse
Pricing a Project: How to prepare a professional quotation, Melanie Thompson
Some people start as generalists, and that’s okay if it works for them, but it won’t give you a selling point. How are you going to stand out? There are thousands of people offering their services as proofreaders. What is going to make a client pick you?
When I was starting out, the obvious thing for me to do was to make use of the BA I’d gained in politics and international relations. I had specialist subject knowledge and I understood academic work. You may have a degree or work experience or a hobby that you could harness in the same way. Of course, I moved away from non-fiction and academic proofreading, but it gave me an opening and I was able to use that experience to position my business where I really wanted it to be.
This is probably the bit a lot of readers will be most interested in. I don’t think there’s a simple answer here. It’s important to be market ready – that’s where the training comes in. But that doesn’t entitle anyone to work. We have to go out there (metaphorically, probably) and find it. Once I’d built a basic website, I started with online directories. As a newbie proofreader, you probably won’t have the experience required for an entry in some of the most lucrative directories, but you can build up to those.
The most obvious candidate is Find a Proofreader. This is where I got my first ever job. Anyone can join this directory, and there is a lot of competition, but it is possible to pick up good work and some experience here. Entries start at £35 a year (at time of writing) for proofreaders, so you won’t be losing too much if it doesn’t yield results, and you’ll get some SEO benefits from linking your own website to one that ranks quite highly in Google. Find a Proofreader has a sister site, Freelancers in the UK, but I didn’t find that as rewarding – others may have a different experience. If you took the PTC’s proofreading course, you can have an entry in their Freelance Finder database. I’ve never had any work from it, but I have heard that other people have. It’s free, though, and reciprocal links will be good for your website’s SEO, so it’s worth setting it up.
The next thing I did was invest in a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. This is updated every year, and it contains lots of information on the world of publishing. The part we are most interested in, though, is the comprehensive list of publishing houses – and their contact details. I sent lots and lots of emails and letters, and I made it on to a few lists. From there I found a publishing services company that I still work with now. This approach will take time, and the response rate is likely to be fairly low, but you ‘just’ need to get your details in front of the right person at the right time.
I’ve been a proofreader for more than seven years now and I am so very glad that I stuck at it in the beginning, no matter how anxious I was about the training or how demoralised I was by the lack of response to my marketing efforts. Other proofreaders will have similar experiences; some proofreaders will have completely different experiences. But I hope the above gives some insight into one way it was possible to get started in proofreading.
This round-up is a bit late, and that’s because something pretty momentous happened at the end of October. I bought a house. It took three very long months from offer to completion, but I am finally sitting in my very own home. To be honest, there were times when I thought it would never happen – and the declining health of the UK economy meant circumstances were not exactly ideal. Mixed with the relief, though, there is a sense of achievement. When I first started my own editorial services business, I hoped that one day it would be successful enough for me to be able to buy my first home, and I have done that. It’s a point in my life that shows me just how far I have come. I have to thank all my colleagues and clients for your support along the way. I appreciate you all, very much.
What I’ve been working on
October has been a fairly quiet month, in terms of work. My usual tutoring commitments have been ticking along nicely. In addition to that, I had the opportunity to work with a new client. It was a pleasure to copy-edit her debut murder mystery novel – it was impressively crafted and I hope it finds the audience it deserves. My other project for this month was a proofread of a sci-fi novel for a client I work with regularly – and it’s always exciting to see where her storytelling is going to venture next.
What I read for fun
This is a bit of a cheat because I haven’t completely finished it yet (I’ve been a bit distracted, for obvious reasons), but I’ve been enjoying Natasha Pulley’s The Half Life of Valery K. As you would probably expect from Pulley, this is historical fiction with shades of fantasy and a delightful smidgen of romance. This time, we find ourselves in Soviet Russia during the Cold War, exploring the secrets of a hidden nuclear research facility. I always enjoy Pulley’s writing style and storytelling, and this is no exception.
There’s likely to be a lot of disruption in November as I get things sorted out in my new home, including setting up my brand-new office space. I hope to be back to normal as soon as possible.
September is the month of my birth, so I did take a few days off in order to celebrate a bit. Of course, I had to go for my traditional afternoon tea and enjoy the tiny sandwiches and dainty cakes I would never have the patience to make myself. I have to admit that it defeated me this time, and I had to give the chocolate flower pot to my sister’s partner. I hope he enjoyed it as much as I would have done.
My other birthday treat was to go on a hack on a quiet Monday morning. This included my first time riding on a road – complete with actual cars on it – and I’m pleased to say it went well. Most of the hack, though, was through beautiful fields and woods, and I had a lovely, relaxing time. I include a wonky picture of the back of Tyson’s head as proof that I’m not making up the horse riding thing.
What I’ve been working on
I finished off the double critique I started in August – the series is shaping up to be a real epic and I’m excited to see where the author is going to take it. The rest of my September work was proofreads. I started with a contemporary slice-of-life tale that took a sudden detour into thriller territory and continued with a post-apocalyptic story of survival and sacrifice. I took on a non-fiction proofread to round off the month, and it was an interesting insight into a different spiritual outlook.
I’m working on a small project at the moment that I hope will help my proofreading students. I’d like all my students to do as well as they can, so I’m writing up some ‘before you begin’ advice based on my now two years of tutoring experience. I’m writing this as a form of accountability to myself – I aim to have it done by the time I write the October round-up!
I finished the memoir proofread I started in July, alongside the proofread of a crime thriller for a publisher. I was very flattered to be asked to proofread a novella by the same author shortly afterwards – it’s always good to have the characters and style fresh in the mind. The psychological thriller I critiqued in June/July was back with me for copy-editing this month, and I think it was a fitting end to the series. Finally, I have the critique of the next two books in a sci-fi/fantasy series with me until the end of September.
Goodbye to Lexico
My clients will know that my go-to dictionary has always been Lexico (itself formerly Oxford Dictionaries online), and I was upset to discover that it would close in August. It now re-directs to Dictionary.com. That’s all very well, but it’s not the resource I’ve trusted for so long. Fortunately, the paid-for version of Oxford Dictionaries still exists, so I have set up a subscription to that and it will be my default dictionary from now on. I know some libraries still provide access to OUP resources like this, but many have made cuts to these services (Hampshire certainly has). However, an individual annual subscription is currently £16.66 (and includes access to other resources too), which seems entirely reasonable in our increasingly expensive world.
I won’t be able to take part in the 2022 CIEP conference in September, much to my disappointment. One of my best friends has very selfishly decided to hold his wedding on that weekend. I hope all the attendees enjoy themselves as much as I did when I went to the 2018 SfEP conference in Lancaster. It was a formative experience, and I’m looking forward to attending a future conference.