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.
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.
May saw the first in-person meeting of the CIEP’s West Surrey & North Hampshire local group for more than two years. It was lovely to be able to see members face to face and to have a conversation that wasn’t limited by the reality of Zoom meetings. We were supposed to have a chartership celebration in 2020, but COVID made that impossible. I’d stowed away the shiny branded pens, pencils and bookmarks I had been intending to give out at that time, and I was able to hand them over to Ellen, our new coordinator, for her to distribute. It felt a little sad, as that was my last task as part of my coordinator responsibilities, but I know it is the right time to move on.
What I’ve been working on
I finished off the copy-edit of a zombie horror novel I started in April. I’d critiqued an earlier draft of the manuscript, so it was rewarding to see how much it had improved and interesting to see how the author had decided to tackle the issues I’d raised. I moved on to the copy-edit of another novel I’d previously critiqued, and it is a sequel to a book I worked on last year. It’s always fascinating to revisit characters I am familiar with and to find out what the author has decided to throw at them this time. This copy-edit will be with me until mid-June. May brought me two proofreads for publisher clients – one was a sort of biblical fairy tale and the other was a historical adventure romance.
What I read for fun
I took my Kindle with me on my trip to Scotland and the book I had lined up was Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree. I kept reading good things about it on social media, and the real world is terrible and I really needed something cosy to distract me. I got exactly what I wanted: an interesting fantasy world, likeable central characters, relatively low stakes, found family, and lots of descriptions of pastries. I’d recommend buying yourself a cinnamon bun before you start this one – you’ll end up very jealous of fictional people otherwise. I believe it was originally self-published and has now been picked up by Tor, so it isn’t available on all platforms at the time of writing, but that’s an inspiring story in itself.
A new blog post
After far too long, I managed to find the time and brain capacity to write a new entry in my fiction essentials series. Following on from my post on how to punctuate dialogue, I’ve taken a closer look at vocative expressions – what they are, how they work, and why they are important.
A weekend in Scotland
I took the Caledonian Sleeper service from London Euston to Dumbarton and it was quite an experience. One of the things I liked most was that club tickets give you access to the first-class lounge at Euston, and that is a place where you can eat as much cake as you like, for free. A man sitting behind me had at least four scones. Other snacks, soft drinks, and hot drinks are also available. If I had realised beforehand, I would not have forked out for disappointing halloumi in a London Nando’s. The train experience itself was a bit hot and stuffy, but I found the rhythm of the train quite comforting to fall asleep to.
Perhaps the highlight of my trip was a visit to Loch Lomond’s Sea Life centre. We were lucky enough to see the otters at feeding time and get close to April, the rescued turtle. She lost her right flipper when she was entangled in netting and her ongoing buoyancy problem means it isn’t possible for her to go back to the wild. She seemed happy enough being hand-fed and the centre of the keeper’s attention, though.
I’m off for a weekend in Brighton to celebrate my sister’s birthday (it’s one of those big ones). I’ve booked rooms at the Grand, and I’m looking forward to feeling very fancy for a little while.
I’m glad to be able to report that I have recovered from whatever lurgy I had in March and I was pretty much back to full capacity for April.
What I’ve been working on
I wrapped up the critique I started in March and the manuscript will be back with me for copy-editing in late May. It’s always exciting to see the improvements that have been made between my two stages of involvement. I had two publisher proofreads in April – one a gentle piece of children’s fiction and the other a twisty crime comedy that is definitely for adults. I’ve also been working on the copy-edit of a horror novel, and that will take me into mid-May.
What I read for fun
I had some time without a critique manuscript, so it freed my brain to enjoy a for-fun read. SI Clarke (one of my wonderful clients) introduced me to the existence of a very intriguing novel: Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera. It follows a washed-up glam-rock band who are chosen to represent Earth at the biggest song contest in the galaxy, with world-ending consequences should they fail. Valente’s inspiration by and love for Eurovision is very clear throughout, and that’s something I can appreciate. Space Opera is a story of hope and nonsense and some very well-observed truths. I think the writing style is likely to divide readers, though. The text is, generally, beautifully constructed, but sometimes it meanders, and occasionally it teeters on being overwrought. It is prose that seems best treated as an indulgence – many paragraphs are almost stories in themselves, to be experienced as whimsical but insightful detours into the human condition. If you are looking for sharp, snappy storytelling, this is not the book for you, but it is a rewarding read if you have the patience for it.
I’m going to Scotland at the beginning of May and I’ve decided to use it as an opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while – I’m taking the Caledonian Sleeper and I’ve booked a room. I will, for the first time in my life, be sleeping on the top bunk like one of the cool kids. Eight-year-old me would be very proud. Later in May the West Surrey & North Hampshire CIEP local group will be having their first meeting in more than two years, and I am very much looking forward to seeing everyone again.
I took a fairly extended break over Christmas and New Year’s, but it still feels like I was back at my desk rather quickly. I think there might be something wrong with time in general – January itself has been and gone in a flash. But let us put aside my general displeasure with the progression of time. January 2022 marks a significant change in my professional life, which I will talk more about below.
What I’ve been working on
I have eased back into work with three proofreads, all for my publisher clients. The first was non-fiction, which is something of a rarity for me now. The second was a contemporary thriller and the third was irreverent speculative fiction. At the end of January I took on my first critique of the year and that will stay with me until late February.
What I read for fun
I have two for-fun reads to report for January. I’d had both of them sitting in my TBR pile for some time and I’m pleased to report that past-me was right to buy them. The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sosuke Natsukawa, is an international bestseller and I can see why. It’s a lovely short novel with quirky characters and lots of depth. The Haunting Season is a collection of ghost stories, most of them very gothic in feel. Natasha Pulley is one of my favourite authors and she contributed to this collection, which is what convinced me to purchase it. The storytelling is generally solid and enjoyable, and there are some interesting ideas wrapped up in these tales. One of the things I like most about short stories like these is the deliciousness of an abhorrent central character making their way towards the ending they thoroughly deserve.
Goodbye to coordinating
I have been the coordinator for the CIEP (formerly SfEP) West Surrey and North Hampshire local group for nearly five years and I have decided that it is time for me to move on. My workload has increased significantly since I took on the role and I can no longer give the group the time and attention it deserves. It has been a wonderful experience and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to look after our little corner of the CIEP. It has taught me so much, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I am a different, better person now because of my time as a coordinator. I have made some incredible friends and I will always regard the group with great fondness. I am delighted that Ellen Rebello has agreed to take over the role and I know that the group will be in excellent hands.
This is the fourth December round-up for Black Cat Editorial Services, so it is time for the now-obligatory report from my project-tracking spreadsheet. It tells me that my 2021 projects had a combined word count of 3,192,937 – slightly down on my total word count for 2020. This is to be expected, though, as this was my first full year of working as a tutor for the CIEP’s Proofreading Headway and Progress courses (my trusty spreadsheet tells me this accounts for 140 hours of work).
On a personal level, I found 2021 to be a distinct improvement on 2020. I have been fortunate to maintain my workflow from my publishing clients and to have many returning indie clients. It’s wonderful to have clients who put such trust in me, and I am very grateful to you all.
Continuing professional development
I look to take one formal course every year and I managed to squeeze it in at the end of December. I chose the Publishing Training Centre’s An Editor’s Guide to Editing Fiction. It is mostly aimed at editors who are new to editing fiction, but it was good to refresh my practice and see what advice the course authors have to offer.
What I’ve been working on
I took a fairly extended break over Christmas and New Year’s, but I still managed to get a few proofreads under my belt. I finished off the proofread of the political thriller I started in November and moved on to a novel about a mother coming to terms with her own mortality. I also had the proofread of the second instalment in a lovely sci-fi series from one of my long-standing indie clients. It was the ideal way to finish off my work in 2021.
The West Surrey & North Hampshire local group has a meeting scheduled for January. The current situation means I have refrained from making many plans for 2022, but I hope to attend the CIEP conference (which is currently planned as an in-person gathering).
This is my fourth November round-up. In my first one, I talked about joining the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) – it doesn’t feel like it can be that long ago that I was waiting to find out if I would pass their vetting process. I did, and it’s been a worthwhile experience; I am glad I took the step to join. ALLi is a great source of information and support, for indie authors and for the services that help them. I’ve met some great people via the organisation, including some clients I have gone on to work with many times. I see the decision to join ALLi as a bit of a turning point. Along with my achievement of Advanced Professional Member status (July 2019) with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (then the SfEP), it is a major contributor to the success of Black Cat Editorial Services so far, and I hope that will continue.
What I’ve been working on
I finished the two copy-edits I had been working on in October. I followed these with the copy-edit of an unusual, thought-provoking ghost story and some short stories for one of my long-term indie clients. I also took on the proofread of a political thriller for one of my publisher clients. My BA is in politics, so it was interesting to see my current specialism meet with my academic specialism.
I will be slowing down for a break over Christmas. However, I do need to get my formal CPD for 2021 done, so that will be something to focus on in December.
I’m not really into puzzles or adventure games, so it is probably not a surprise that I had never taken part in an escape room challenge before. I have to confess that I wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic about it – it seemed a bit like paying for an hour of concentrated anxiety – but my friend wanted to do one for his birthday and let no one say I won’t make sacrifices for my loved ones. It turns out my entire group was a bit rubbish at it, and my only real contribution was being able to repeat an eight-note tune on a keyboard (my only instrument-playing experience is playing the recorder at primary school for a few weeks before I got too nervous to perform in front of people and never did it again, which is an on-brand origin story). But we did complete it, in the grand time of 53 minutes and 47 seconds. It’s not about the time, though, really, is it? It was an hour of laughter and comradeship, and the experience of doing something new.
What I’ve been working on
I feel like I had a fairly balanced month in terms of work – not too much and not too little. My workload as a tutor has been steadily increasing, so I’ve had to take that into account when I schedule in proofreading and copy-editing projects. I started the month with the critique of the second part of a saga I have been involved with for a while. The author completed their revisions by the end of the month, so it’s now back with me for editing when I can fit it in around my other work. My first copy-edit of the month was of a novel by one of my long-standing clients. Their work is always tightly plotted and beautifully written, and it is a privilege to be their go-to editor. The second copy-edit will finish in the beginning of November – this is for a new client whose voice and characterisation is impressive. I feel very lucky to work on such wonderful manuscripts.
My latest book review for CIEP has been published: Strange to Say: Etymology as serious entertainment. I usually enjoy reading the books they send me, and I tend to look for the positive aspects even if I am not, perhaps, the primary target audience for the text. It’s hard when that is difficult to do, especially as I know how much hard work and emotional energy goes into writing and publishing a book. But I also have to be honest – it is, after all, a review.
I had hoped that there might be a chance for the West Surrey & North Hampshire CIEP local group to have an in-person meeting this year, but I think that is looking increasingly unlikely. As that is the case, we will be having our last Zoom meeting of the year in late November.
There are few things better than book mail. One of those things is receiving a copy of a book that you worked on. I got one of those in September – and it had come all the way from the USA. It always means such a lot to me when one of my clients sends me a copy of the completed work, and when they have thought about a lovely inscription to include. I am a fairly stoic person, but it does make me a bit teary when people say nice things about me. If you are reading this, Steven, thank you again. It was a pleasure to critique the manuscript (and that of the sequel).
The CIEP’s second conference was held in September, and it took place online, for obvious reasons. Although I would enjoy going to an in-person gathering again, there are plenty of benefits when the sessions take place online. Perhaps the biggest one, for me, is that the speakers can be from all over the world, so we can access knowledge and viewpoints we might not have been able to before (not everyone has the time, means, ability, and desire to travel to the UK to give a one-hour presentation). I hope this aspect can be retained for future conferences. You can read more about the conference and the sessions that were available here.
What I’ve been working on
September was a fairly quiet month for editing projects. I finished two projects that continued from August – one the copy-edit of a dark, psychological tale and the other the proofread of a collection of short stories. I also had the critique of a YA sci-fi/fantasy novella, which I thought held a lot of promise as the beginning of a series.
What I read for fun
I have started reading Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice and I am really enjoying it. There is some ongoing commentary about the prevalence of ‘celebrity authors’ and their effect on the publishing industry (and rightly so), but I think Osman’s success is not just to do with him already having a fairly high profile. His books are enjoyable – the stories are intriguing, the characters are fun to spend time with, and the prose is witty and accessible.
I am another year older, and I don’t know where the time is going. I used my birthday as an excuse to take a couple of weeks off – there wasn’t much point last year as we were still in the grip of COVID lockdowns. The focus of my birthday celebrations was a trip to the Isle of Wight, one of my favourite places. I had a lovely time visiting the Garlic Farm, the donkey sanctuary, and Shanklin Beach. I ate far too much, but I was happy.
I also made two trips to a beach a little closer to home, where Ella could have a good swim and I could enjoy some chips and ice cream. I’ve have gone to Lee-on-the-Solent at least once every summer since I was a small child, and I’m glad to have kept up the tradition.