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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I touched on vocative expressions in my blog post on how to punctuate dialogue, but I think it is a topic that deserves a little more exploration.
What are vocative expressions?
A vocative expression is used when someone is addressed directly in dialogue. It is often their name, but it doesn’t have to be – it could be a form of address that relates to their job, indicates their relationship to the speaker, or provides some other means of identifying them (respectfully or disrespectfully).
vocative, adjective Relating to or denoting a case of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives in Latin and other languages, used in addressing or invoking a person or thing. Lexico
Why are they useful in fiction?
Vocatives can serve many purposes, but there are three key reasons for using them in fiction.
The basic and most obvious reason to use vocatives is to help readers keep track of who is speaking and who they are talking to, especially if there are a few characters involved in the scene.
The Silent Companions (2018) by Laura Purcell, pp. 180–181 ‘How now?’ Charles called again. ‘Speak up, little Hetta!’ The boys hooted again. ‘Leave her alone, Charles!’ I snapped, but it only made them laugh harder. They were so excited, I believe they would have laughed at death itself. ‘It is only in jest, Mother.’ ‘I really cannot understand what Henrietta Maria is trying to communicate,’ Josiah said. ‘Anne, have you any idea?’
Vocatives are an effective way to show the reader how characters relate to each other and how they feel about each other. Are they family members? Does one occupy a higher rank than the other? Do they like each other? Do they hate each other?
The Man Who Died Twice (2021) by Richard Osman, p. 199 ‘But you can predict things,’ says Ibrahim. ‘The tides, the seasons, nightfall, daybreak. Earthquakes.’ ‘None of that is people, though, mate,’ says Ron. ‘You can’t predict people. Like you can guess what they’ll say next, but that’s about it.’
The Way of All Flesh (2019) by Ambrose Parry, p. 66 ‘What is your name?’ he asked, almost breathless in his incredulity. ‘It is Sarah,’ she replied, her words barely discernible over the sound of the screaming children. ‘Yes, I know that part. Your surname.’ ‘Fisher.’ ‘And you are a housemaid, Miss Fisher, are you not?’ ‘Yes, sir.’
Well-used vocatives can help to show us the emotions of the speaker – they are a great tool for evoking a deeper sense of how the characters are feeling. We might often associate this sort of usage with annoyance, urgency or surprise, but it can show us sorrow, patience or concern just as well.
Seven Devils (2020) by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam, p. 300 Briggs could barely keep his eyes open. His skin was pale. “Hold on, Briggs,” Sher said. ‘We’re getting you out.”
Too many vocatives
Natural speech doesn’t tend to incorporate vocatives as often as you might think – too many will make the dialogue sound stilted and false. And readers are likely to find overuse really quite annoying. There are other ways to indicate who is being talked to, or who is present in the scene, without sprinkling the dialogue with vocatives. Let’s ruin a bit of a very good novel to demonstrate the point:
The Silver Collar (2020) by Antonia Hodgson, p. 307 The town was looking for a new schoolmaster. Was that something I might consider? […] ‘Is that what you want?’ she asked me. ‘I don’t know. Perhaps.’ If you want it, my love. She narrowed her eyes. ‘Tom, you would hate it.’ ‘I would not! Nayland is a very fine town, with plenty of taverns…’ ‘A schoolmaster.’ ‘A noble occupation.’ ‘Yes. One that requires you to sit cooped up in a room for hours—’ ‘I can do that!’ ‘Sober, Tom. Sober.’
The same scene, but with vocatives turned up to eleven The town was looking for a new schoolmaster. Was that something I might consider? […] ‘Is that what you want, Tom?’ she asked me. ‘I don’t know, Kitty. Perhaps.’ If you want it, my love. She narrowed her eyes. ‘Tom, you would hate it.’ ‘I would not! Nayland is a very fine town, Kitty, with plenty of taverns…’ ‘A schoolmaster, Tom.’ ‘A noble occupation, Kitty.’ ‘Yes, Tom. One that requires you to sit cooped up in a room for hours—’ ‘I can do that, Kitty!’ ‘Sober, Tom. Sober.’
The second one is hideous, isn’t it? It’s horrible to read and it totally destroys the impact of when Kitty does address Tom directly. In the original, we can hear her suspicion, mixed with a little frustration and amusement; in our version, the characters might as well be robots.
We need to use commas to make it clear that a vocative expression is in action, and this is how to do it:
If the vocative expression is at the beginning of the sentence, it needs a comma after it 
If the vocative expression is at the end of the sentence, it needs a comma before it 
If the vocative expression interrupts the sentence, it needs a comma before and after it 
‘Evan, have you seen my ice cream?’
‘That’s my tub of ice cream, Evan.’
‘If you don’t put my ice cream down, Evan, we won’t be friends anymore.’
Vocatives need to be punctuated correctly to prevent ambiguity. We’ve probably all seen the classic ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ mistake floating around social media, and that’s the sort of thing we want to avoid.
This is, I think, one of the things that writers struggle with the most. There are some simple guidelines, but sometimes it can be a little more complicated. Remember, these are for forms of direct address – there are different conventions when some of these words are used descriptively.
Names are proper nouns and so they always take an initial capital letter:
‘Where are you going on holiday, Annie?’
Terms of respect and endearment take lower case in general use:
‘I don’t know where your teddy is, sweetie.’
‘Can I help you find your coat, sir?’
Terms of respect used with names become proper nouns and take upper case:
‘Would you like to try the tea, Miss Harwood?’
Titles of rank and nobility take initial capitals:
‘Where, Detective Inspector, did the body go?’
‘I can’t stand any more of this heat, Captain.’
Titles indicating relationships take upper case:
‘Thank you for visiting me, Dad.’
‘Can you teach me how to paint like that, Auntie?’
Why do vocative expressions matter?
Vocatives are a useful tool. They help the writer convey who is being addressed and how they are being addressed, and they can help to give a deeper, richer sense of mood and indicate how the characters feel about and relate to each other. It’s important to be mindful with our usage, though. We don’t want to make the dialogue jarring and annoying to read, and we don’t want to distract the reader with ambiguities.
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 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.
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 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.