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).


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.


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).


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.


28 May

Fonts, fonts and more fonts


I love this! Link here, where you can magnify it. The only trouble is, I love so many fonts – and now I’m disappointed because I like the look of ATC Elm Normal, but can’t find a downloadable version… 🙁

My favourite font seems to shift about once a year, and at the moment it’s probably Cambria. Because I’m a little OCD about italicising things like book, journal and TV programme titles, as well as quotes, I do generally lean towards serif fonts, e.g. Georgia, Garamond and trusty old Times New Roman.

But I do also like a nice, clean sans serif option too, particularly Trebuchet (and yes, I do spent a lot of time on the Internet!) and Tahoma. If I’m not going to be using italics, I will probably opt for one of them.

What I’d really like is a good script font. Some look nice but are too faint or twee. I’ve just downloaded Windsong Regular, which isn’t bad, and Rage Italic is OK, but I’m still looking for one that’s just right…

26 Feb

Inky fingers

My name is Selena, and I’m addicted to fountain pens…

Well, perhaps that’s a bit too dramatic, but I am definitely a little OTT when it comes to my love for ink pens. Although writing anything of any length is much easier and quicker on a keyboard, I do enjoy writing greeting cards and short notes with one of my several fountain or cartridge pens. Moreover, I always prefer to proof on paper (as opposed to screen – you can miss a lot doing so), and yes, I use green (or red) ink!

I’m a big fan of Diamine, a old British company based near Liverpool that does a fantastic range of traditional and ‘trendy’ inks. I’ve just bought some Meadow, seen below, and also like Scarlet, which is actually a deep, bright cerise-red. They deliver very quickly, and best of all sell sample-sized bottles so you try a colour out before committing to buying a larger-sized bottle.


For pens I would highly recommend Cult Pens. I just daren’t let myself click on that link…

23 Oct

PayPal is here!

If you scroll down below my signature on the home page, you’ll now see a PayPal button. I will still always send an invoice with my bank details for direct online payments, but if you prefer to use PayPal all you need to do is click on this button, enter the amount owed and that’s it – nice and simple, hopefully, and probably a bit quicker. I hope this is helpful to some of you.

25 Sep

The definite article

This summer I’ve done quite a lot of editing work on academic papers written by students who do not have English as a first language. On the whole, the level of English has been quite impressive – especially to someone like me, who seems incapable of learning another language – but one recurring theme has been the struggle with the use of ‘the’ as the definite article.

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be an occasional error, either, but one that can occur at least 70% of the time, whether it be adding the when it is unnecessary, or omitting it when needed. There does appear to be a general decline in the use of the as the English language is evolving to become less formal, but I wonder if there are any easy pointers for students?

This article on the BBC’s website was the most succinct I could find. There’s no denying it must be a nightmare for anyone learning English!


26 Jun

Student service

Academic texts are some of my favourite to work on, and I’ve just completed my first job for a student (PhD) client. I offer a student rate that represents more than a 20% discount to my lowest standard charge, and while I appreciate that most students are not exactly flush, it’s worth thinking of it as a good investment to make sure that your degree, masters or PhD thesis especially reads well. This is likely to result in a better grade, and potentially higher earnings in the future!

I’d say this particularly applies to overseas students. The UK is a great place to study, but to suddenly dive in, especially for technical/scientific subjects, can be daunting in terms of writing sound English. I’m good at making subtle corrections and interpreting what authors who don’t have English as a first language are trying to say accurately; I’ve helped two Spanish friends, one doing computer science and another a molecular biologist.

As well as theses, post-grad students can need help with e.g. research papers and conference posters. I’m confident in most subjects, from biomedical to sociology, psychology etc. Probably only engineering and physics might faze me a little!

I’m always happy to have a chat on the phone, and give a rough price estimate before accepting any job, and will always keep prices as low as I can; for example, just performing a single pass edit, and not double-checking. I will also explain clearly any edits I’ve made, to help you develop your own writing skills.

05 May

You say tomato…

I’ve recently completed the proofing of a book that required American English, and that footnotes etc. followed The Chicago Manual of Style. Luckily, I’ve written in American English for many years, so not much was new to me, but I did buy the latest edition of the CMOS to be on the safe side, as well as Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (the US equivalent of the OED).

I have to say, the CMOS is amazing! For around the first 25% of the book I found myself consulting it about every five minutes – and it has an answer for everything. The only thing I was left a little unclear about was the reference format  for some websites, so I just did the best I could to be consistent. Although the subject matter of the book was a little heavy going, I found proofing it surprising enjoyable as it gave my little grey cells a bit of exercise!

03 Apr

New phone!

Anyone else dread upgrading/changing their mobile…? I only converted to a ‘smart’ phone in 2013, but once I’d got used to it, I did find it useful; however, I will confess that some features still drive me potty, and I prefer the old method of texting. They also make contracts so much more complicated in terms of data on top of calls and texts etc.

But thankfully in about an hour I emerged from EE with a shiny new Sony, and it was activated before I’d even got home. So, I can’t complain there – business was unaffected. It’s just that feeling of dread and loss so many of us have these days when we’re without our mobiles.

And you’d have to prise my iPad out of my cold, dead hands!