The Black Cat monthly round-up: November 2022

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.

Looking ahead

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.

Editing essentials: getting started in proofreading

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:

Training

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.

Research

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

I would also recommend the following:

Decide what to offer

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.

Finding work

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.

Summary

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.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: October 2022

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.

Looking ahead

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.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: September 2022

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.

Looking ahead

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!

The Black Cat monthly round-up: August 2022

What I’ve been working on

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.

Looking ahead

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.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: July 2022

We had a heatwave in the UK and I was yet again grateful that I invested in a portable air-conditioning unit a few years ago. It’s only useful for two to three days a year (although that will change, I am sure), but it’s still money well spent. There’s no way I could proofread accurately in temperatures around and above 40°C.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the psychological thriller critique I started in June, alongside the proofread of a YA fantasy novel. I moved on to the copy-edit of a satirical crime thriller by an author I have had the pleasure of working with before. I also had a memoir to proofread for one of my publisher clients – I find I enjoy proofreading the occasional bit of non-fiction, as long as it doesn’t come with an extensive reference list or lots of footnotes. Which is just as well, as this was followed by another memoir, and I’ll complete that in early August.

What I read for fun

I managed to fit in one for-fun read in July. I’d had The House in the Cerulean Sea on my TBR list for some time. I wanted something relatively soft and gentle, and I think this book fits the bill. Throw in my favourite trope – found family – and I’m sold. It’s a lovely fantasy story, with sprinkles of wonderful humour and a touch of melancholy. It’s a tale about hope and love and acceptance, and I think we need more of those in the world.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: June 2022

In my May round-up, I mentioned a zombie horror novel I’d been copy-editing. I had previously critiqued the manuscript. Well, the absolutely fabulous news is that it has been picked up for representation. I am beyond delighted for my client – I know she had hoped to traditionally publish before deciding that self-publishing may be the best option for getting the novel out to a readership. I have to say, I was a little emotional to read the words ‘I believe you helped me get representation’.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the copy-edit of the thriller I’d started in May and moved on to an absolute beast of a proofread – more than 215,000 words. I seem to have had a run of long manuscripts lately. Fortunately, this had been well copy-edited. It is the first contemporary novel I’ve worked on that uses the beginning of the pandemic as a key part of the storyline – I found it quite moving to look back at a time that was, really, quite naive, given what we know now. My next proofread, which will finish at the beginning of July, was young adult fantasy fiction – a breeze at ‘only’ 110,000 words. Alongside those, I have been working on the critique of the final instalment of a dark and twisting thriller series. I think the author has wrapped up an intense and, at times, disturbing series in a fitting manner.

A weekend in Brighton

Another month, another trip to a Sea Life centre. This time it was the world’s oldest aquarium – the building itself is stunning, even before you get to see the inhabitants. The turtles at this centre make April (mentioned in my May round-up) look like a tiny wee thing – one of the turtles at Brighton weighs twenty-eight stone (about 178kg). They really are astonishing.

A trip to Brighton wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the pier. The arcade was full to bursting, but I enjoyed the obligatory chips, and treated myself to some fresh doughnuts (I definitely didn’t eat all of them myself…).

The Grand was pretty much as amazing as I had hoped it would be. I was tickled to realise that my sea-view balcony was the one that has the iconic ‘GRAND’ sign on it. It’s not quite so great when it glows all night, but that can’t be helped. It was a good break and I would love to go back.

Looking ahead

There’s a CIEP local group lunch scheduled for July, which I am looking forward to. And I have been called upon to help my friend choose suitable flavours for his wedding cake – a job I am more than prepared to tackle. Bring on the samples.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: May 2022

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

Text on a background of daisies: Black Cat Editorial Services: May round-up

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

A train carriage that has 'Caledonian Sleeper' emblazoned on it

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.

An Olive Ridley Turtle looks out of a large aquarium. She has a missing flipper.

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.

Looking ahead

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.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: April 2022

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.

Looking ahead

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.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: March 2022

I had the lurgy (fortunately not the lurgy, which I have thus far managed to avoid) for a good chunk of March, so I have had a fairly light month in terms of full-length projects. This is one of the drawbacks of being self-employed – there’s no safety net if I can’t work because I’m simply not well enough to do so. Sure, I could blunder my way through a project and hope my client doesn’t mind or notice, but I wouldn’t consider that to ever be acceptable. Our professional standards are part of what defines us.

What I’ve been working on

When I was able to think coherently, I spent most of my time on the proofread of a comic post-apocalyptic tale that took multiple genre tropes and smashed them together in an irreverent fever dream. I also had a critique manuscript on my desk – this was the sequel to a novella I critiqued in 2019, and from an author I have worked with regularly since then. I think I say this sort of thing quite often, but it really is rewarding to see an author grow into their own style and gain confidence in their storytelling.

Thank you to my students

I had a flood of proofreading assignments submitted to me in March, and it took me a little longer than it usually would to mark and return them to my students. The course maximum is three weeks, but I normally aim to send my feedback within two weeks so there’s not too much of a lull in the learning process. I know how important this training is to many of my students, so I am grateful for their patience.