The Black Cat monthly round-up: January 2020

January started with a meeting of the West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group where we discussed our goals for the year. New websites, membership upgrades, and client-base expansion were popular aims. I was heartened by the level of positivity and optimism on display. I count myself lucky to be surrounded by such a driven and generous group of editors.

Black Cat Editorial Services_ January round-upWhat I’ve been working on

I finished my Christmas-time edit of a satirical crime novel and the new year brought me two non-fiction proofreads. One was a book of reflections on Japanese culture (which gave me a final shove to start learning a bit of Japanese) and the other was a guide to privacy legislation. I was back to fiction for my next proofread: the second instalment of an indie mystery thriller. I’m still working on a critique of a time-travel thriller predominately set during World War II – I like to spend lots of time mulling critique manuscripts over, so I expect to have it on my desk until mid-February.

What I read for fun

I had a lot on my plate in January, so I haven’t quite finished my only for-fun read. Naomi Novik’s Temeraire – a fantasy alternative-history novel in which there are many dragons – somehow manages to be joyful and yet completely heartbreaking.

Looking ahead

I’m going to cut down on my workload for a few months, for personal reasons, but I’m planning to maintain this blog series and my coordinator work.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: December 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_This is the second December for Black Cat Editorial Services and the business continues to go from strength to strength. My project-tracking spreadsheet tells me that 2019’s projects had a combined word count of 3,066,923. That’s nearly a million words up on 2018, which seems incredible and slightly ridiculous.

It has been quite a year – much of it hard work and some of it tiring and frustrating. But there have been many highlights. In September, I completed the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ Introduction to Fiction Editing course. In August, I was the guest on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Twitter chat (#IndieAuthorChat). In July, I became an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP – something I had been working towards for four years. In June, I approved a typeset version of my book review for the SfEP’s Editing Matters magazine. In March, I attended the fiction editors’ mini-conference in London, and a few days later I went to the London Book Fair. And in February, I led a continuing professional development session for the West Surrey and North Hampshire local SfEP group.

I am fortunate to have many wonderful colleagues, clients and friends, and I am very grateful for all of your support.

What I’ve been working on

I completed two fiction proofreads in December – one a split narrative, time-jumping, mystery thriller, and one a work of gentle, humorous commercial fiction about a village taking on a Trump-like figure. I’m currently in the middle of a copy-edit of a satirical crime novel – it’s kept me nicely busy over the festive period.

What I read for fun

So, I finally ran out of episodes of BuzzFeed Unsolved and returned to reading (after a one-day binge of The Witcher). The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern is amazing. Its delicately woven narrative threads, beautiful imagery, and charming characters really made it a wonderful read. I spent most of Boxing Day reading A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. The world-building is pretty darn good, and I appreciate a secondary protagonist who has many, many shades of grey.

Looking ahead

I’m planning to attend the SfEP (soon to be the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading) conference, and I aim to be back at the London Book Fair. In the short term, I’m looking forward to the first lunch meeting of the year with the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group, where we will be talking about our goals for 2020.

Here’s to a happy and successful new year for us all.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: November 2019

November was a chaotic month. It started with disruption caused by the laying of a new floor and concluded with a poorly cat. One new king-size mattress and a not-inconsiderable vet bill later, Oscar seems to be back to his usual self.

What I’ve been working on

Black Cat Editorial Services_ November round-upI finished the critique I started in October, of a psychological thriller, and was delighted to have provided exactly the sort of help and advice the author was looking for. I moved on to the copy-edit of an enjoyable and light-hearted children’s mystery novel.

My first November proofread was of the second edition of a best-selling management and self-improvement title. It was the first time I’ve worked on a new edition of a previously published book, and it was a bit of an eye-opener in that there was plenty of work for me to do. The second proofread was completely different – a well-edited and unconventional science-fiction novel. It was an interesting experience (and another first) to work with a PDF that had been produced using Vellum.

What I read for fun

I have to confess I have no completed for-fun reads in November. I read The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist by Thomas McCormack in an attempt to inform my editing practice, and it was definitely not fun. There are more informative and less frustrating books on fiction editing out there (On Editing by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price is one of my favourites).

I did read a few chapters of Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea and it is brilliant so far. The main problem is I’ve become a bit over-fond of watching BuzzFeed Unsolved in the evenings instead of reading…

Looking ahead

I’m quite excited for the last SfEP local group meeting of the year: our festive social, which is a morning meeting for tea and cake at a local garden centre. The last lunch meeting of the year, in November, was well attended and the discussion was, as usual, helpful and generous.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: October 2019

There’s no social stuff to report for October – it has been a very work-heavy month, but I have managed to get in a lot of for-fun reading to balance it out.

What I’ve been working on

I started October with a non-fiction proofread: a work of political theory addressing (some of) the current issues in British government. I don’t envy authors of this sort of work – the situation is likely to have moved on before this book is even published.

It was a bit of a relief to be able to sink myself into some fiction for the rest of the month. I took on one children’s fantasy-fiction novel and one young adult fantasy-fiction novel. Both authors had succeeded in creating compelling magical worlds – a particular skill when one was set in a different galaxy. Alongside these edits, I have been working on a critique of a psychological thriller from a first-time author. It’s a real privilege to be trusted with an author’s manuscript and asked to give my assessment of it. My aim is to give the author the tools and confidence to achieve her goals for her novella.

What I read for fun

Black Cat Editorial Services_October round-upThree for-fun reads this month, and one of them was more than 800 pages long – I think you can tell I didn’t get out of the house much.

Semicolon is an excellent book. I am a fan of semicolons and Cecelia Watson does a lovely job of explaining why writers should embrace this elegant little mark. She also digs into language snobbery and grammar pedantry with a sense of humour and ear for good writing.

My first fiction read was Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens. I’d read lots of positive reviews of the series and I wasn’t disappointed. I thought the framing device of the book being the case notes of the Wells & Wong Detective Society (two third-formers at an English boarding school) was a great one. The narration from Hazel Wong is engaging, humorous and, at times, moving.

My second fiction read was an epic: Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree. It deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon it. For a book of that length to grip hold and not let go until the very end is a huge achievement. It’s a fantasy world where women lead and same-sex relationships are unremarkable. I didn’t realise just how refreshing that would be.

Blog posts

I published a blog post inspired by one of our recent West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group meetings. There are lots of good resources out there for editors and writers, and I’ve collected five of my favourites and details on how you might be able to access them for free.

On Twitter, I shared an article from Luna Station Quarterly about not killing the dog. Tracy Townsend has summarised a lot of my thinking on the subject, and as a reader it always disappoints me when an author uses it as a lazy way to signpost ‘evilness’.

Kia Thomas wrote a great post about editing with kindness, which I think every editor ought to read and take on board. I like to think I am a kind person in general, but it’s something I have particularly focused on while writing up the critique I mentioned earlier.

Looking ahead

Early November sees the last lunch meeting of the year for the West Surrey and North Hampshire SfEP local group. We’ll be chatting about how to make the most of our professional websites (it feels a bit weird to type that for a blog post for my professional website).

Recommended books for writers and editors

Recommended books for proofreaders and editors (and writers)At a recent meeting of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) West Surrey and North Hampshire local group, we spent a couple of hours talking about our favourite resources: those books and websites we turn to first when we are working. Here are some of the books I would recommend to proofreaders and editors, and to writers – and the good news is you may be able to try them all out before deciding to spend your hard-earned money.

New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide (Oxford University Press, 2014)

New Hart’s is a handy little style guide, primarily for conventions within UK publishing. It’s thorough and straightforward, and it gives plenty of helpful examples. I used it a lot when I started out and I still have it within easy reach now. If you have a UK library card, you may be able to access New Hart’s for free (use this link and look for the PREMIUM tab).

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2017)

CMOS is probably one of the best-known style guides. It’s a treasure trove if you are working with US English and need to know US-publishing conventions. The print copy is a beast but, fortunately, you can access the same information – in a searchable format – online (a subscription is required but there is a free trial available).

The Penguin Guide to Punctuation, R.L. Trask (Penguin Reference Books, 1997)

Don’t be put off by the publication date on this one – it’s still the best book on punctuation I have come across. Trask provides clear, simple explanations, and does not assume prior knowledge. If you are worried about how to use semicolons, or don’t know a hyphen from a dash, this book is for you. You can access an online version of the guide for free via the University of Sussex (thank you to Etty of Elegant Words for that tip-off!).

New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors: The Essential A–Z Guide to the Written Word (Oxford University Press, 2014)

This isn’t your standard dictionary – it focuses on those words and names that may cause an editor or writer difficulty. NODWE is designed with us in mind. Not sure about a spelling variation? Wondering if that term should be hyphenated? NODWE is the book you need. As with New Hart’s, it is available free online to many UK library-card holders.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, ed. J. Butterfield (Oxford University Press, 2015)

I love Fowler’s. It is eminently sensible – there’s no nonsensical pedantry here. Its advice is easy to understand and international in scope. This respected authority on English usage is a bit of a tome, so if you’d like to get a sense of the book, a ‘pocket’ version is available alongside New Hart’s and NODWE.


For a slightly different take on some of my favourite work-related books and websites, check out my blog post on the resources I use as guides to style and usage.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: September 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_September 2018I wasn’t at the SfEP’s conference this year, unfortunately, but I had plenty of other things to keep me occupied in September. I have been working my way through the SfEP’s Introduction to Fiction Editing course, on and off, since May and I managed to complete it this month. It’s a lot more in-depth and complex than the course title may suggest; I’m sure it will have a positive effect on my editing practice. The section on critiques and their structure should be particularly useful.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the two proofreads I started in August: a non-fiction book on cricket and a novel about bereavement. I followed this with the proofread, for a publisher, of a poetry collection. Poetry is not something I have edited before, so this was a great experience – I love being able to work on a wide range of texts. The last project of September was a collection of stories about British-Indian women. It was a fascinating glimpse into the lives of some truly remarkable people.

What I read for fun

I had a week or so off for my birthday (more on that later), which meant that I had a bit more time for for-fun reading than usual. I pre-ordered the collector’s edition of Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom some time ago, and it arrived at the beginning of the month. It’s almost as beautiful as the collector’s edition of Six of Crows. And it gave me an opportunity to use the Boomerang app for the first time. Enjoy:

I’ve had the novella All Systems Red by Martha Wells on my wish list for a while. It was the first book I downloaded onto the Kindle Paperwhite I got as a present for my birthday. Murderbot is a brilliantly written character: introverted, humane, dispassionate and funny. I whizzed through it in a couple of hours and then chose Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice as my next read. The characterisation throughout could be stronger but I enjoyed it for what it was.

Birthday business

Sandwiches, scones, cream and jam, and cake cubes on a dark-wood stand.

Afternoon tea at Audleys Wood.

I managed to make my birthday celebrations last a couple of weeks. The first treat was afternoon tea at Audleys Wood Hotel in Alton with one of my favourite editor colleagues. I do enjoy posh sarnies and tiny cakes. I had a lovely, chilled birthday at home and then headed up to Yorkshire for a few days away. I stayed in Harrogate, which is a beautiful place. Somehow I had failed to realise the UCI Road World Championships (cycling) would be taking over the area; lots of roads were closed, it was very busy, and there were bikes – almost literally – everywhere. But I did manage to enjoy a good wander round the town and visit the legendary Bettys tea room. There was an Italian restaurant joined to our hotel, and the food there was absolutely stunning.

The local group

Between my birthday and going to Harrogate, I held a lunch meeting of the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group. The topic for discussion was marketing and looking for work, and as usual the group members delivered some great insights and advice. The next meeting will be in November, and we’ll be talking about how to make the most of our professional websites.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: August 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_ August round-up(1)One of the best things I did during August was to take part in FutureLearn’s How to Read a Novel course. It’s a great introductory exploration of key parts of modern fiction: plot, characterisation, dialogue and setting. The concepts were familiar to me but Dr Alex Lawrie is a wonderful guide through the frameworks and examples presented in the course. Fiction writers, and editors, could do worse than spend a few hours working through the material and thinking about how to apply it to their own practice.

What I’ve been working on

I’ve been fortunate to have four books on my desk this month. I started with a children’s fantasy-fiction novel, set in Scotland, and followed it with a novel about a European woman starting a new life in India. Finishing off the last two books will take me into September. One is a fascinating non-fiction book about cricket in the early twentieth century; the other is a fiction novel about bereavement.

What I read for fun

I read two brilliant books in August. The Way of All Flesh, by Ambrose Parry, is a Edinburgh-set historical crime novel. I was drawn right in. It’s a good example of how to use two point-of-view characters to cover the same events, of how to use their overlapping perspectives to enhance the reader’s engagement with the story. Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi, is another strong example of using multiple point-of-view characters. It’s glorious, epic fantasy-fiction, with superb world-building and female friendship at its core. I do wish, however, that the characters didn’t exclaim ‘Agh!’ or ‘Ugh!’ quite so often.

Looking ahead

This time last year I was nervously looking forward to attending the Society for Proofreaders and Editors’ conference. I’m not making the journey this year but I’ll be following the Twitter hashtag (#sfep2019) to keep up with the goings-on. I will be taking part in September’s meeting of the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group. We’ll be talking about marketing and finding work (always a hot topic for freelancers). Then I will be off on a short holiday to celebrate my birthday.

Black Cat does #IndieAuthorChat

I was the guest for the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Twitter chat on Tuesday 6th August 2019. The chat takes place every Tuesday, using the hashtag #IndieAuthorChat, and is hosted by the lovely Tim Lewis of Stoneham Press. We had a great hour talking about proofreading for indie authors. If you weren’t able to join us, you can catch up using the Twitter Moment or read, below, a transcript of the questions Tim asked and my answers:

Q1: How does proofreading differ from editing?

A1: Proofreading is a type of editing, but it is a lot less interventionist than a copy- or line-edit. I think of proofreading as making the smallest possible changes to make the text as correct as possible.  Proofreading should occur right at the end of the publishing workflow – it’s the final polish and is not a substitute for a thorough self-edit and professional copy-edit. The SfEP has a handy fact sheet to compare proofreading and copy-editing.

Q2: How much difference does format (print, eBook, etc) make in terms of proofreading a manuscript?

A2: It shouldn’t make a huge difference. It will be more about what the author finds easiest to work with and how much labour they want to put in to checking and adopting changes. Indie authors tend to ask me to mark up a Word doc, which isn’t proofreading in the traditional sense (that’s checking typeset proofs) but is easy to manage. Don’t be afraid to ask for a paper or PDF proofread if you want one – a properly trained proofreader will have the ability to do this. The cost will probably be higher but they will be checking the text and the format in as close to its final state as possible.

Q3: What is a style sheet and why is it important in editing and proofreading?

Black Cat Editorial Services_ talking proofreading on #IndieAuthorChatA3: A style sheet is SO IMPORTANT. A style sheet is a document that collects all your style preferences. You can see a very basic example on my website. It is essential for editing and every editor you work with should provide one for you. If they don’t, ask to see what they compiled. Style sheets are needed to ensure consistency throughout the text, and provide the author with an at-a-glance summary of what has been done and why. I extend mine to record character and location details, and often include a chapter-by-chapter synopsis to help me keep track of events. If you engage a proofreader, it is in your interests to provide them with the style sheet the copy-editor compiled for the project. It’ll save a lot of time and possibly confusion, and should make proofreading cheaper for you.

Q4:  How do you work with an author – what is the process of getting your manuscript proofread like?

A4: The process is quite straightforward, but I need the author to give me as much information as possible, really. Be upfront about what you are looking for. Send me a sample so I can see what needs to be done. If I don’t think a proofread would best serve you and the project (i.e. it needs a deeper level of edit) I will tell you. There is a small amount of paperwork involved (I ask clients to sign a project agreement) and I will require a deposit to book my time. Proofreading is usually(!) straightforward so the client may not hear from me until I’m finished. However, I’ll email if I do need to consult on something that’s not easily dealt with. I’ll send over the marked-up document and the style sheet, and a sign-off form for the project. I’m available to answer any related questions and will do my best to assist.

Q5: How much should an author pay for proofreading and what factors affect the cost?

A5: This is a tricky one. It depends. If the text is in excellent shape, and the client provides a comprehensive style sheet, I’d charge around £7 per 1,000 words. If we are looking at something complex that needs to be done within a tight time frame, I’d charge £10–12 per 1,000 words. It’s all about time. The longer it takes, the more I charge. My pricing isn’t at the top end of what you could expect to pay. The SfEP suggested minimum is £25.00 per hour. Format, time frame, complexity, level of intervention – these will all affect the cost.

Q6: What is one thing you wish all authors understood about proofreading and editing?

A6: What a question! Well, one of the important things for me is that authors understand that we are a team. Don’t be afraid to give me as much information as you can. Tell me what you want to achieve. If I don’t know, I can’t tailor my editing to support you.

Q7: How can people find out more about Hannah McCall and Black Cat Editorial Services?

A7: You can check out my website (https://blackcatedit.com/) or follow me here on Twitter (I’d love it if you did).


Got your own questions about proofreading? Feel free to leave a comment below. Thinking about joining ALLi? You can find out more here.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: July 2019

The monthly round-up_ July 2019I was somewhat startled to realise that this post will mark a year of Black Cat round-ups. That means Black Cat Editorial Services has been in operation for more than a year – and what a year it has been! I’ve worked on 30 projects, and read (for fun) 30 books. I went to the SfEP’s conference in Lancaster. I attended the London Book Fair and the fiction editors’ mini conference. I joined ALLi and now regularly take part in their Twitter chat (#IndieAuthorChat). And I wrote a book review for the SfEP’s Editing Matters magazine (which technically means I’m a published writer!). Thank you to clients, colleagues and friends for all your support.

Professional news

All of the above has helped me to become an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. To reach APM level was one of my major professional goals, and I am still extremely pleased to have achieved it. APM is the top tier of SfEP membership. I had to prove I have more than 1,500 hours of editorial experience, show evidence of recent professional development, and provide two references from satisfied long-term clients.

What I’ve been working on

I proofread two very different memoirs this month. The first was a deeply personal account of a difficult childhood and mental health issues. The second was a snapshot of the author’s charity work and related success stories. I finished July with a novel about escaping from Germany at the height of World War II.

What I read for fun

I managed three for-fun reads: one non-fiction and two fiction. Rutger Bregman is becoming a well-known figure and I’d highly recommend taking a look at Utopia for Realists. It contains some big ideas – ideas some may consider radical – but it is written in an accessible and engaging manner.

My fiction reads were Almost Love by Christina James and Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb. I was slightly disappointed by Almost Love: there’s a good story in there, but it needed a bit of a trim, in my opinion. And the text in the print edition is way too small: Sabon 9/10.5 is a no from me. Assassin’s Apprentice is a classic of the fantasy genre, and rightly so. I found the world-building particularly impressive (see the cutting of hair when in mourning) and liked the framing device of Fitz starting to tell a history of the Six Duchies.

Looking ahead

I have been asked to take part in #IndieAuthorChat as a guest on Tuesday 6th August at 8pm (BST). We’ll be chatting about proofreading for indie authors: what it involves, when it should be done, and what the value is to self-publishers. Do join us!

The Black Cat monthly round-up: June 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_ June round-upI almost can’t believe we are halfway through the year already – where does the time go? I’m pleased that my workload has remained steady, and that I managed to find some time to enjoy the much-improved weather at the end of the month.

One of my June highlights was being asked to approve the typeset version of the review I wrote of On Editing – I’m not ashamed to say I was quite excited to see my words nearly ready for print! I think the review will feature in the July/August edition of Editing Matters.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the fantasy-romance edit I started in May. The author was delightful to work with and I hope she finds great success with her novel. I also completed the second part of the short-story collection I began in May – it was great to see the themes coming together and the realisation of the direction of the piece as a whole.

I was then on to two fiction proofreads. One a modern-day revenge thriller and the other an action thriller set during the Second World War. I followed these with the proofread of a long and complex non-fiction book on how our brains absorb visual information. It’s good to do something different every now and then, but this project reminded me how much I prefer to work on fiction.

What I read for fun

I managed one book this month: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. It has a great concept and the story rolls along nicely. It did make me think, however, about the art of using punctuation. The correct use of punctuation is, of course, important, but I think those little marks need to be wielded with style and sensitivity. For example, if the reader has to stop and re-read the sentence to make sense of what the dashes are doing, that’s a problem. If the reader (I admit this may be specific to me) is thinking about how ugly the punctuation combinations are, they aren’t absorbed in the story anymore. The punctuation should help the words flow by, should clarify and reinforce meaning, and all while being unobtrusive.

Looking ahead

Early July sees another SfEP local group meeting. We’ll be talking about our favourite books and other resources when we are working or training. I have a few go-tos (hello, newly re-branded Lexico) and it will be interesting to find out what other editors recommend.