18 Sep

Personal pronouns – a thorny and complex issue

I’m just back from my second SfEP conference, held in Aston this year. As with my first, in 2017, it was great to talk to other (mostly) freelance editors and proofreaders and do a bit of CPD, which has been sorely lacking from my schedule this year. A highlight was definitely the $/%*ing brilliant opening talk – at 9.15am on Sunday! – from ‘Tartan Noir’ author Chris Brookmyre: if you ever get a chance to attend a talk of his, do so.

Probably the most thought-provoking session I attended was by linguist Erin Carrie, on bias in language (her colleague Rob Drummond treated us to another highly entertaining speech after the gala dinner on Sunday). This mostly focused on, for example, dialects and accents, but then we moved on to personal pronouns – this was timely as it was the first SfEP conference in which delegates could choose to add a pronoun preference to their ID badge, and it coincided with Sam Smith’s announcement that he wanted to be referred to as ‘they’.

And this is where things get contentious…

As a heterosexual biological woman I’m not even going to begin to try and put myself in the shoes of anyone on the trans spectrum, but as a biologist by training and someone who has worked in biomedical and healthcare information for 30 years, I do struggle with the concept of being gender ‘non-binary’. I’m fully supportive of transsexual rights, and think – just like everyone else regardless of sex, colour, religion or culture – all trans people should be treated with respect and politeness.

But, I do also have concerns about upholding women’s rights, especially when it comes to fully biological males (i.e. those who haven’t even started any hormonal treatment) who ‘identify’ as women. As you may be aware, there is a huge debate around this at the moment, much of it on Twitter, about issues such as men competing in women’s sports (which most people would admit is going to lead to an unlevel playing field physically) and excluding men, no matter how they identify, from safe spaces for vulnerable women: see, for example, the attacks on Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter because they refused to provide services to transgender women.

So how is this relevant to editing? Well, luckily in my area it’s not an issue that I’m likely to come across very often, but editors working on e.g. government and NGO publications are perhaps going to have to grapple with the terminology more often in the near future, and in fiction it’s open season (do read Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex if you haven’t already). What struck me in Carrie’s talk was the example sentence she used to discuss what is ‘correct’ grammar and what isn’t. After going through the obvious version and the garbled alternatives, she presented a final version that was something like:

John is funny. They make us laugh.

Now here is where us editors may have to start accepting ‘non-standard’ – a favourite phrase of Drummond’s – usage. And it also goes back to one of Carrie’s main themes, which was what is ‘standard’ English anyway, and who decides what qualifies? When conversing with people, I often refer to a particular friend or acquaintance as ‘they’ rather than he or she, and the singular they is perfectly correct grammatically and has been for many years.

Wearing my editing/proofreading hat, however, I find the sentence above terribly jarring. If I had no instructions as to why John was a ‘they’, I would edit it to ‘he makes’. If it was a more gender ambiguous name, like Alex or Sam, and I didn’t know anything about the person being referred to, I would query whether it should be he or she.

I will confess my thoughts on this are far from fully formed, and it will be fascinating to see what happens in this area over the next few years. Is proclaiming yourself to be non-binary just a passing fad – even an affectation – or is gender fluidity going to become more common as people begin to reject society’s labels and the expectations and demands they bring?

And how will we as editorial professionals keep on top of it all and know what is correct grammatically or offensive to the individuals who don’t want to identify as male or female or are transitioning from one to the other? I am sure the lovely new Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading members will help guide and inform each other, and as is usual, I hope all viewpoints will be respected.

11 Feb

Pen vs hero

Well, so far 2019 is proving to be as full on as 2018 – I didn’t even really get much of a break over Christmas. Still, I’d rather be busy than twiddling my thumbs, and I did take some time out last week for a total fan girl evening, going to see the amazing performer and human being that is John Grant. As someone who works with the English language, I appreciate his lyrics, though be warned they are not for those of a sensitive disposition!

Some of my old colleagues used to tease me about being a bit obsessed with pens… put it this way – they knew better than to ask to borrow one of mine. I probably own about 1,000 (no exaggeration) and am always trying out new red and green ones for proofreading especially.

So, hotel room booked across the road from the concert venue, last week I headed off to Liverpool with a magenta Sharpie and his latest release on CD in my bag. After 1.25 hours waiting by the stage door in the cold, I was rewarded with a lovely chat, hugs and autograph from the big man. And while it’s not exactly how it looks, this photo did make me grin.

25 Sep

Whoosh!

That’s the sound of 2018 whizzing by…

I am actually embarrassed about how long it’s been since I wrote a post, so am doing a ‘quick and dirty’ one just to make it clear that I am still alive and working!

I’ve had a very full-on 12 months, due to relocating 200 miles from the south of England (Hertfordshire) back to the north (Lancashire). That decision was made after a few reconnaissance, and then house-hunting, trips, and before, during and after the move (towards the end of April) I was very busy with work, so it’s all been a bit hectic.

Despite being born and bred on the right side of the Pennines, I love Lancashire and the friendly folk, and though I haven’t had time to do much exploring, I’m settling in OK and enjoying the odd butter pie (a new experience for me). Ironically, the relocation meant I had to miss the SfEP conference this year, despite the fact that it was held just up the road in Lancaster – a lovely city, and one I nearly moved to. But, I hope to make it to Aston next year.

The weather though… the wind and rain here is something else. But, I do now have a nice little first-floor study, rather than having to work in the frozen (or broiling) garret at my old house, plus I’m on a very quiet street.

So, I’m hoping for a tranquil end to 2018, and a rather more peaceful 2019…

24 Oct

Going back to Lyra’s Oxford

When I was a full-time employee, I would manage to read a few books each year, often on the train. Since working from home and spending much of the day reading for work, the inclination (and time) to read for pleasure seems to have deserted me.  For the past 18 months I’ve had three half-read books dotted around the house, creating guilt trips every time I come across them (a biography of TE Lawrence, the story of Henrietta Lacks and Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies – I devoured Wolf Hall in a few days…)

At the turn of the millennium, for two Christmas holidays running, I tucked myself away in my parents’ Edwardian house and fell into the world of His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman’s masterful trilogy of Northern Lights, The Amber Spyglass and The Subtle Knife. I’ve never had the remotest interest in reading any of the Harry Potter books, but adore Pullman’s story telling. I concur with his views on organised religions, am a lifelong ailurophile and take pleasure in watching the local birdlife (in SW Herts we are blessed with an abundance of red kites), so found his settings and the idea of daemons immediately bewitching.

Although there was a little intermediate treat in the form of Lyra’s Oxford, I experienced child-like excitement again upon hearing about the Book of Dust, a new trilogy. The first part, La Belle Sauvage, is a prequel, setting the scene for how Lyra grew up as an orphan at Jordan College; the next two are due to be set 10 years on from the end of HDM.

I bought La Belle Sauvage the day after it came out, started it on the Friday, and finished it in the early hours of Monday morning. Apart from perhaps one slightly weak/strange section it was a fantastic read (with adult themes and language) and the experience was like being reunited with a long-lost friend. My sadness at finishing it has been assuaged by Simon Russell Beale’s reading of it as the ‘book at bedtime’ on Radio 4 this week, and my realisation that I had never got round to reading the other ‘teaser’ book, Once Upon a Time in the North. Guess what I’m doing tonight?

I’m hoping that the Oxford English Dictionary will also add a lovely new word – teawards. As in, ‘Her thoughts turned teawards.’ Tea and Philip Pullman; what better combination?

19 Sep

Losing my conference cherry

It seemed appropriate to use an item of food in my title as there was an abundance of the stuff at the 2017 conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders – a veritable cornucopia at every breakfast, lunch and dinner, topped up with a constant supply of tea, coffee and biscuits. Given the intellectual intensity involved, it provided much-needed fuel!

I set off on my thankfully straightforward journey late on Saturday morning, and got in touch with two fellow editors, Andrea and Lorraine, who I’d made contact with via the SfEP forum about sharing a taxi from St Neots station. As the heavens opened just as our train from London pulled in, we were relieved to see that the taxi firm had a cabin for us to shelter in – complete with tabby cat. After a short drive we arrived at the tranquil countryside setting of Wyboston Lakes, checked in quickly and easily, and had a cup of tea whilst waiting for our rooms to be ready.

The pretty courtyard garden at the training centre – great for tea breaks

Unpacking done, room approved, I wandered down to the Training Centre to register and attend my first AGM and opening address from the enjoyably opinionated Oliver Kamm. Coming back to my room before dinner I bumped into medcomms colleague Petra: nice to see a friendly face. I missed the drinks for newbie conference attendees as a nap was needed, but met another batch of welcoming editors at dinner. Our table performed honourably enough in the pub quiz, after which I withdrew for an early night. Unlike Hugh, I made it back to my room without being accosted by “big” foxes…

I’m not an early riser, but the combination of travel alarm clock and the centre’s wake-up call service managed to get me out of my (extremely comfortable) bed by 7.30am on Sunday. After a great shower and a hearty breakfast, off I went to my first session, on Word styles. A delicious lunch and then it was a discussion on managing client relationships, followed by a presentation by getting the most out of your directory listing by the ever-helpful Nick Jones. Unfortunately, the day proved so tiring that I didn’t have the energy to attend the social media get-together and say hello to my fellow Tweeters, but after another cheeky nap I was refreshed and ready for the gala dinner. Even Kate’s tale of an appendectomy in a Chinese hospital with no general anaesthetic didn’t put me off another tasty meal; however, I’m not sure Table 17’s members should be allowed to edit poetry (link only for SfEP members)!

Sat behind the legendary Louise Harnby, winner of the 2017 Judith Butcher award, at the gala dinner (Photo by Helen Stevens, used with permission)

Monday was another full-on day, starting with a session on rates led by Katherine, Erin and Janet. This was probably one of the two sessions I personally found most valuable. Because I went freelance and joined the SfEP having already worked as an editor for more than 20 years, I didn’t start off with ultra-low rates. But, neither were they anywhere near high, and I’ve since suffered from a bit of ‘paralysis’ when it comes to increasing them. This presentation inspired me to raise my rates for existing clients from January and to review the rates I present to new clients.

After a useful hour discussing when, what and how to query, on Monday afternoon I then went to Tracey and Jackie’s session on guerrilla marketing. This was the other session that was most useful – and motivating – for me, as marketing myself is something I still struggle with. Despite this being the final one of the conference, I would have been happy if it had been at least half an hour longer, and went away with lots of good ideas about attracting the clients I want to work with.

Proceedings were wrapped up with a very enjoyable closing speech from Mark Forsyth, from whom I learned the lovely word hendiadys. Then another easily arranged taxi share back to St Neots station – this time in sunshine – to catch a nice quiet train back to Kings Cross, where we all went our separate ways.

In summary, I’d recommend attending the annual SfEP conference for any member who hasn’t tried it. Everyone was so welcoming, friendly and non-judgemental, and it was great just to be able to talk about both editing and freelancing issues with other people in similar situations to your own. Through casual conversations over meals or during tea breaks I’ve been prompted to try utilising macros, and possibly PerfectIt, got tips and leads, and also an opportunity to say hello to one existing and one potential new client. I’ve neglected my professional development to some extent since becoming self-employed, except for bits and pieces picked up on various jobs, so the conference gave me a big boost and provided lots of inspiration for how to sustain and grow my business.

I will be certainly be back. Note to self: don’t pack snacks.

 

10 Jun

Einstein a go go

Recently, one of the very first clients I had as a freelancer got back in touch and asked if I would be interested in working on another book for them. Great! But my heart sank as I read further on – the book was about quantum physics…

Now, I’m a scientist by background, but a biologist. At school, I did not enjoy physics or maths. Although like everyone else I had to do maths ‘O’ level, I dropped physics like a piece of uranium: admittedly, this was partly because I hadn’t thought much about my ‘A’ level choices – with hindsight I should have done physics at least to ‘O’ level, but at the time I was still flirting with the humanities. As it happened, I managed to muddle through the ‘harder’ bits of my life sciences degree so my aversion to physics wasn’t a major issue.

Except, it did perhaps plant the seed of a bit of a complex about the subject. So I had to think a little longer than usual about whether to accept the project, despite the clients being lovely to deal with.

Anyway, I took the plunge, said yes, and in fact it turned out to be a really interesting read! I actually understood most of the science and some of the information, for example about CERN, was fascinating. Although the contributors were all active research physicists they had written about their topic in a very accessible way.

So, I didn’t just reconnect with an old client, but was allowed to play a small role in an enjoyable project, and best of all it gave me a bit of a confidence boost – if I can handle proofreading a book on quantum physics, I can handle anything… right?
07 Apr

How to find – and pay! – me

Thanks to a bit of time to do some admin, I now have profiles on BookMachine, Reedsy and YunoJuno. As the former’s name suggests, it is dedicated to the subject of book publishing and is an informal community that allows potential clients to browse your profile; however, there is also a lot of general discussion and they organise events.

Reedsy is also dedicated to books, but is a more formal ‘marriage bureau’ for authors/publishers and those who can provide a service they need – in my own case that’s obviously proofreading and copy/line editing. Reedsy manages any contracts, charging a 10% commission of the agreed project price for doing so.

Linked to my Reedsy profile is my new Stripe account, which is another way of accepting payments (my ID is Beaumont Pro); you can also pay me via PayPal, using the link on the home page (I may set up a separate page for payments at some point).

YunoJuno is a more general site for finding freelancers, but again arranges the payments and takes a commission. Some companies are moving over to this platform for managing all their freelancers. YunoJuno charges employers a commission of 9%, but guarantees that freelancers are paid within 14 days, which is most welcome!

Of course, you are always welcome to contact me directly through the form on this site, email, phone, LinkedIn etc. etc.

22 Mar

A fair deal for freelancers!

It was quite a relief to me when the Chancellor saw sense (or whatever actually happened…) and decided not to implement the National Insurance increase for the self employed. There are many wonderful benefits to being your own boss, but for me at least, an excess of cash is not one of them! Overall, I earn significantly less than I did as a full-time employee, and of course have no paid sick leave or holiday, pension contribution, subsidised private medical insurance or paid time off for bereavement etc. etc. If I don’t work for any reason, my income goes down, plus I have to sort out all my own IT, training and so on.

Call me cynical, but it seemed an especially egregious move when so many people have joined the ‘gig economy’ because the number of 9–5 jobs has fallen. We take a brave leap into the unknown deciding to go out on our own – and keep unemployment figures down in the process.

Within this environment of uncertain income levels and increasing overheads, there has been an insidious rise in the demands some clients are now placing on freelancers, namely that they operate as a limited company and/or are registered for VAT.

I am neither. I operate as a sole trader, and that works perfectly adequately for me. I already pay an accountant several hundred pounds each year to do my tax returns, and their fees would increase substantially should I decide to become a limited company – which would have no perceivable advantage to me. Likewise, should my annual income reach anywhere near the VAT threshold (£83,000) I’d be sipping daquiris in the Bahamas and not be worrying too much about the extra administration time and fees it would cost me.

I’m aware of the IR35 issues, and so am careful to try and keep a variety of clients and never devote 100% of my time to any one for a prolonged period of time. I have professional indemnity insurance. I’m happy to sign any reasonable contract.

Operating as a freelancer I release my clients from a lot of expense and paperwork. I’ll work unsociable hours, at short notice, and have no expectation of a guaranteed flow of future work – usually not even a warning that they don’t need my services any more. If I do a good job, at a reasonable price, and deliver the required work by the required date, isn’t that the main thing…?

05 Oct

The perfect proofreader’s pen?

I’m a firm believer that proofreading is best done on printed paper. Not only do you miss a significant amount reading on screen, but I find that if I do overlook anything on the hard copy, I catch it when I start editing, i.e. it’s a sort of ‘belt and braces’ approach. Moreover, especially when I’m dealing with books or reports of more than 100 pages, I like to be able to flick through them, scribble notes, highlight things I need to check later etc., as opposed to scrolling up and down a screen and so on. Call me a Luddite, but it works best for me.

So, pens are important to my work. You’d think any old pen would do, wouldn’t you? Well, if you’re as fussy as me – NO!

Firstly, I’ve found that for quicker editing down the line, bright colours are best, so the classic red and green, and sometimes purple, pink or turquoise. But, there’s red and then there’s red… I don’t want a light, orangey scarlet, or a namby-pamby pink – I want a vivid cherry or telephone box, true red. This is much more difficult to find than you might expect.

Secondly, sometimes the proofs I work with are PDFs with very small and/or faint text, so a chunky old biro is no good (FYI: when they are, I don’t think you can go far wrong with the BiC Cristal medium). In these cases I need a very fine point, yet one that has a bold enough colour to stand out, has a nice smooth flow of ink and isn’t ‘scratchy’.

Finally, I use decent quality Xerox 80g/m2 copier paper for printing out drafts but it’s still fairly thin, and because I usually print on both sides of the paper, I need a pen whose ink isn’t going to bleed through too much and make the other side of the page difficult to work with. For example, I’m a big fan of the uni-ball Eye Fine UB-157 rollerballs for most things, but there’s just a bit too much bleeding of the ink to do a large document with one on standard copier paper (ditto the Micro UB-150).

red-pens

I love ink pens, and they are going to get an honourable mention, not least as I like the idea of re-using a pen for years. Once I’ve got through the 100+ pens in my possession, I shall probably whittle my collection down to 3-4 fountain/cartridge pens, a few uni-balls, and some trusted, carefully selected other pens. I should note that I’m left-handed, although I hold my pen in a ‘normal’ way, and don’t usually smudge.

Having been disappointed by a few pens, I decided to visit one of my favourite websites, Cult Pens, and ordered virtually every finer point red pen that they stocked. I did miss a few, for example, the Pilot G-Tec C4 Rollerball, which actually sounds pretty perfect – it’s on my ‘to buy’ list. As a fan of BiC Cristal medium biros, I haven’t yet tested their fine option, so that’s another possibility. Still, I ended up with ~20 pens old and new, including representatives from edding, Paper Mate, Pentel, Schneider, Staedtler, uni and Zebra. I also tried a red-leaded pencil, but that was too faint. My testing criteria were:

  • Deep, intense red colour
  • Fine point
  • Smooth flow of ink

A few days’ editing later, a clear winner emerged, and an honourable runner up. The top place went to the uni Jetstream RT SXN-217 Retractable Rollerball Pen Fine. It has a 0.7mm ball that writes with a 0.35mm line – and it writes like a dream: really deep red that glides over the paper effortlessly and dries fast, so no smudging. It’s also light and comfortable to grip. At £2.47, not the cheapest disposable pen (you can save money by buying a pack), but well worth it.

un26860-rd-zzzuni-sxn-217-jetstream-rt-retractable-rollerball-pen-fine-red_p2

Second was the Pilot Acroball Deluxe Ballpoint Fine. This has archival-quality ink, and was only marked slightly down because its red is a little less intense than the uni’s. Currently, only the Medium version is in stock; it’s only £2.50, and refills are available.

In other colours, I loved the green and purple Pentel Slicci 04 Gel Rollerball, which writes with just a 0.2mm point. The green is a lovely, deep shade and still legible no matter how small you write, while the purple is a nice bright ‘true’ colour, too.

Sometimes I proof PDFs with dark backgrounds, and like the uni-ball UM-120AC Signo Angelic Colour Pastel Gel Rollerball Pen for this, in white. The other pale colours have been discontinued, but I might try the Pilot G2 Pastel Retractable Gel Rollerball Pen in pink or yellow as an alternative.

Last but not least, back to ink pens. I highly rate the Platinum Preppy Fountain Pens, which are such a bargain at just £2.79! I use the 02 Extra-Fine in red, and despite the size of the nib, it writes smoothly, and is only marked down slightly because the red is a bit feeble. The 03 Fine in green on the other hand is lovely, and fine enough to use on all but the smallest of print.

If you want to invest in a good ink pen, I do own several more high-end ones, including a gorgeous Pelikan and a very reliable Stipula. For proofreading though, with some advice from the ever-patient staff at Cult Pens, I bought a TWSBI Eco Fountain Pen, in clear, with an extra-fine nib. For only £28.99, this is a wonderful pen, with an enormous ink cartridge so you’re not constantly refilling. It writes immediately, even if it hasn’t been used for a few days. Pair it with your favourite ink (I like Diamine’s Claret) and you’re good to go!

05 Jun

Pricing estimates

Estimating costs for editing and proofreading jobs can be a bit of a nightmare, so I thought it might help if I explain how I work – and why I charge by the hour, and not by word or page (though I am also happy to negotiate a project price in advance).

finance-calculator

For most non-specialist jobs, I charge approximately the industry standard rate, as published by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, although I don’t differentiate between proofreading and copy-editing as I tend to find that most jobs are a combination of the two – what I call line editing. I offer a reduced rate for students.

Assuming that the manuscript contains fairly well written English and has around 250-300 words per page, I can proof up to 10 pages in an hour. For larger projects, I’d thus expect to get through 15-16,000 words in a seven-hour day proofreading. If I’m then editing the copy afterwards as well, that’s usually quite a bit quicker. So, if I didn’t have to do much background checking etc. I’d probably be able to proof, edit and return a 10-12,000 word document within 24 hours (I don’t work 9-5). I also charge a 30-minute fee for admin, printing etc. which can go up to 45 minutes for very large, full colour documents that I need to print off myself.

Of course, however, many jobs are not that simple! This is especially the case when the writer is not a native English speaker: it can sometimes be quite difficult to interpret exactly what they’re trying to say if their English is not very good, then there is a higher level of correction needed and thus editing time. The same can apply if I need to do a significant amount of fact checking – it all takes time…

What I can say is that I always work as quickly and efficiently as I can, and always round down to the nearest 15-minute period when invoicing. I also offer a slightly reduced daily (as opposed to hourly) rate for bigger jobs that take me more than seven hours.

Please do feel free to call or email me if you would like a rough estimate of the cost for any project.