I recently read this gem of a book: Bookworm by Lucy Mangan. I loved it, not just because it's so well written, but because it brought back so many wonderful book memories. (We're more or less the same age – I’m more, she’s less.)
Like most Brits of my generation (I was born in 1973), my earliest book memories are of Ladybird books. They were so beautifully illustrated that I took in every detail of those pictures. I was even inspired by a Ladybird picture book to speak my first word: bubbles.
My mum would read to me every day and, of course, every night. Nursery rhymes (Dean’s Gift Book of Nursery Rhymes, illustrated by Janet and Grahame Johnstone), and more Ladybird books, naturally; The Enormous Turnip, The Little Red Hen, The Magic Porridge Pot, The Gingerbread Man, and Chicken Licken were all favourites. Then, a little later, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White and Rose Red, and The Elves and the Shoemaker. Also, lots of Beatrix Potter.
Most of my early books had first been my brother's, and his favourites became my favourites too. In particular, Little Crazy Car by Hilda Boswell and The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.
One book that was mine – a 1976 Christmas gift from my godfather who had recently emigrated to Canada – was How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And my first dictionary, The Cat in the Hat Beginner Book Dictionary, was bought for me by my brother from a jumble sale, apparently. Another picture dictionary was passed on to me from my cousin. I loved those dictionaries – an early sign that I was destined to work with words?
Although it was usually my mum who would read to me, until I was old enough to read myself, my dad would also do the honours occasionally. Most memorable was the night he read Pinny Takes a Bath by Racey Helps. Only, he thought it was called ‘Pinny Takes a Bath and Racey Helps’! That makes it sound as if he wasn't much of a reader, but he always had at least one book on the go. Our house was full of books; he was always having to put up new bookshelves. Both my parents knew the importance of books. I never needed to read under the covers with a torch (although, if I'd had a torch, I might have done it anyway just because it sounded like an exciting thing to do). Telling me to stop reading, even to go to sleep, just isn't something they would have done. Ever. So, once I was able to read independently, I would read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I read a lot of Enid Blyton books that way, including The Faraway Tree, The Secret Seven and The Famous Five series.
A selection of my favourites, recently rediscovered in my old bedroom cupboard
There followed a bit of a Dark Age of reading; I struggle to remember with any detail most of the books I read between the ages of about 8 and 10, probably because the books I went on to read were not reread as much as the earlier ones. I continued to enjoy mysteries and discovered the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators (I particularly liked The Mystery of Monster Mountain). I know I also read books such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Bogwoppit, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (like Lucy Mangan, I had the editions illustrated by Faith Jacques).
The most wonderful moment I had while reading Bookworm was when I came across the first reference to Private – Keep Out! by Gwen Grant, a book I had completely forgotten about but absolutely loved at the time. I don’t remember finding it quite as funny as Lucy Mangan did, although with chapter titles such as ‘Did God make Gloria Hottentot as well?’ it was most definitely very amusing. My most memorable laugh-out-loud reading moments came from Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine with the description of George’s grandma as having a ‘puckered up mouth like a dog’s bottom’ and – even more hilarious (there were tears) – the scene from Whistle Down the Wind, by Mary Hayley Bell, in which the children are talking about giving Jesus some comics to read and then, when he’s finished, letting Bette Davis have them to spend a penny on. (Spoiler: there’s a man hiding in their barn and they think he’s Jesus, and they have a dog called Bette Davis.)
Books I tried and failed to read include Stig of the Dump, Carrie’s War and The Hobbit (I actually wrote about my failure to read The Hobbit in my very first blog post). I finally read Stig of the Dump last year (to my son) and last week I read Carrie’s War (the 1975 edition I failed to read as a child). I read The Hobbit last year too (also the same old edition) and I did enjoy it, so I had a go at The Lord of the Rings, but I only got about 100 pages in. I’ve just never been able to get into fantasy fiction, unless it was a fantasy world accessible from the real world; I’m sure I would have loved Harry Potter at that age. Even Alice in Wonderland was just too much for me and I could never get further than the ‘drink me, eat me’ scene.
Like most girls, I went through a phase when I was mad on horses, so I bought lots of pony books – mostly from second-hand book stalls at horsey events – by writers such as the Pullein-Thompson sisters and Judith Berrisford.
When I grew out of those, the transition to adult books began and this mostly consisted of Judy Blume’s books. Oh my God, they were brilliant. One of my favourites was Deenie, about a teenager who is diagnosed with scoliosis and has to wear a body brace. So, one day, when I received a letter from the school asking my mother and me to attend an appointment at the school nurse’s office and we weren’t told what it was about, but I was then asked to bend over and try to touch my toes, I knew exactly what they were checking for, and my heart was in my mouth. Apparently, as a young child, I’d been considered to be at risk of developing scoliosis, but, fortunately, I was fine.
I also enjoyed Forever, in which the main character actually has sex with her boyfriend. I lent my copy to a friend, and her mum confiscated it and I never got it back! I was so angry about that. I suppose she thought she was doing me a favour because if she kept it, my mum would never know I had it and I wouldn’t get into trouble. But my mum wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. I want my book back, Mrs Evans!
In my mid-teens, I moved on to adult fiction. I read my dad’s David Lodge and Tom Sharpe books. At Cwmbran Library I discovered Rosemary Timperley’s books, which I loved, but are all now sadly out of print – perhaps they weren’t as good as I thought they were at the time. After reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm at school, I went on to read Down and Out in Paris and London and Nineteen Eighty-Four. An all-time favourite of mine, which I also first read at school, was of course Pride and Prejudice. The copy I had at home was actually a 1920s edition that had been my grandmother’s school copy. The student who had written her name above my grandmother’s was called Mollie, and I used to like to think it was Mollie Sugden (they were at the same school), but it wasn’t. I also read my mum’s copy of Jane Eyre. I was probably quite a bit older than my mum was when she read it and so it didn’t scare me half to death as it did her. I also loved Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
When I was 16 or 17, Patricia Cornwell published the first in her Kay Scarpetta series, and so I eagerly awaited those each year until I tired of them in the late 90s.
Clearly, I’ve always loved books, but I wasn't a true bookworm in the sense Lucy Mangan describes. Although books were a big part of my life, I also had plenty of friends and plenty of other interests, as does my son. So, I had faith that he would love books too because I'd been reading to him from the word go and he'd always enjoyed being read to. And, sure enough, at six and a half, he has recently started reading independently and actually said, ‘I never knew how brilliant reading to yourself could be!’ Since Easter he has read several Scooby Doo mysteries, Lauren Child’s Hubert Horatio books, The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark (thanks to Lucy Mangan – that was one I missed out on as a child but read about in Bookworm), plus a couple of my old favourites: Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and My Naughty Little Sister.
We were chatting recently about the summer holidays coming up. I’m an introvert and he’s very active, always wanting to be going somewhere, so I usually struggle to keep him entertained. He’ll be going to a play scheme in the mornings, and I said, ‘We’ll just have to find something to do in the afternoons then.’
And he said, ‘Read?’
I’m so happy.
I am a member of a Facebook group for editors, in which I share a weekly round-up of blog posts primarily aimed at improving editorial (or editorial business) skills and knowledge. Here is a round-up of some of my favourite posts from 2018.
The beginners' guide to cold-calling publishers
So you want to be a blogger
Explaining the price of editing (including a video: How Star Wars was saved in the edit)
Overcoming marketing paralysis
Editors and social media: Twitter
How to create compelling editing quotations
Business planning and management
5 New Year's resolutions to boost your business
How an accountability group helps you stay on track
Personal crises: the freelancer's strategy
Making sense of billable vs non-billable hours
Deposits everyone can live with
What should I call my editing or proofreading business?
Negotiating a rate increase
Getting better and getting organised
Professional associations for editors
Networking and etiquette
Wise owls: Networking
Do you need a desktop computer with a large screen?
New page navigation options in Word
Health and well-being
Advice for authors
Sometimes it's useful for editors to be able to point authors to resources that can help them, rather than the editor having to explain things themselves.
5 ways to use audio for book marketing and reader engagement
A very sweary dictionary
How to prepare your book file for an editor
A beginner's guide to apostrophes
How to write novels for readers, not viewers
Things have been pretty quiet on my blog lately, for several reasons.
Although I hadn’t planned to, I worked throughout the summer last year, combining work and childcare, working evenings and weekends. Then I attended the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ annual conference in September; I was ill while I was at the conference, which I wrote about here in my last proper blog post.
When I returned home after the conference, I had a couple of weeks left to complete a training course I’d started before the summer and hadn’t had time to work on, so I got busy with that.
My son had also started school full-time in September. Suddenly I had six hours a day to myself and I expected to have loads more energy as well as time, but that wasn’t the case. Parenting is hard for everyone, but as an introvert, making yourself available to someone 24/7 for the best part of five years is particularly draining (I am not alone). So I realised it was going to take me a while to adjust and that I desperately needed to catch up on some me time – a couple of months to recharge and regroup, mentally and physically.
Relax, re-energise and reorganise
I spent a couple of weeks with my feet up, watching daytime TV. Now, it is possible to learn from daytime TV. Just watch Hotel Inspector, Four in a Bed, or Come Dine With Me if you need any tips on how not to run a business or how not to behave around other human beings.
Once I began to feel better, I started to focus on my business again. It was time to get organised. I'm lucky to have my own space to work in, with a lockable door; although, the main purpose of the lock is to keep the door shut, as it has a tendency to swing open if anyone so much as breathes near it.
(Not my study door)
I’d worked out that part of the reason I’d been feeling overwhelmed was because my study had become rather cramped, so I started by de-cluttering. Some of the clutter was boxes of stuff still unpacked after our house move three years ago, or things I’d been putting aside to give to charity. The rest was mostly paperwork – old household bills, insurance policies, MOTs, etc., going back several years. I used to regularly sort through and shred or recycle such paperwork but, since having a child and moving house, I'd let things pile up. Sorting through three years or more of that lot took some time, but it was worth it.
Then I invested in a new set of drawers, the same depth and height as my desk, which extended my desk space as well as my storage space. That meant I was able to get rid of my old desk that I'd been hanging on to, which freed up room for a bureau that used to belong to my grandmother, and that now houses all my editorial reference books.
Since doing all this, I have been working so much more efficiently because I have more space to spread out and because I can find things more easily. It’s true what they say – tidy house, tidy mind.
My reorganisation was complete just in time. I had accepted a couple of smaller jobs between September and November, to keep my business ticking over, but as it was now early December I expected things to be quiet until the new year. However, since then it’s actually been one book after another, and I only took a few days off over Christmas.
In February I decided it was time to invest in a new desktop PC, as my laptop was beginning to slow down and it was also starting to seem too small for what I need. I bought a Dell and I’m so happy with it. I can work faster and I feel I can spend more time at the computer now I have a bigger screen and a proper keyboard.
In spite of all the snow recently, I could feel spring approaching and that it was time to draw up my business plan for 2018/19. It basically consists of training courses. I started one course two weeks ago, which I’ve almost finished, and in that time I’ve also attended two webinars; I start a new four-week course on Easter Monday, and if I have the time and energy after that, I’m planning on taking a few more courses this year! They are mostly focused on fiction editing.
A lot of my work over the last 18 months has been proofreading or copy-editing fiction, and it is an area I would like to specialise in, but I feel it’s important to get the training to consolidate my experience, so that I can be certain I’m offering the best possible service to my clients.
Once I've completed my training, I'll be updating my website to list the courses I've taken and to reflect my new specialism.
I’m back to busy times again. But from now on I’ll be making sure to factor in some me time, no matter how hectic things get.
I am a member of a Facebook group for editors, in which I share a weekly round-up of blog posts aimed at improving editorial skills and knowledge, or helping editors become better freelancers/business owners. Here, I am sharing a round-up of what I thought were some of the most useful posts from 2017.
For those just starting out, these three posts might be of use, including this one from me, which proved to be my most popular post of the year by far! Also, Succeeding as a freelancer from Editors Canada. And here's How to choose a professional organization to join.
Business planning & management
The first three in this section are from the An American Editor blog:
On the basics: being businesslike
The business of editing: do you know your business' health?
A continuing frustration – the going rate
This one is from Liz Jones, on Managing time – your own and other people's.
And here is The ultimate vacation prep checklist for freelancers.
An excellent post from the incomparable Louise Harnby, on Emergency marketing for editors and proofreaders.
And another post from Liz Jones, this time on Stealth marketing.
Louise Harnby asks 'What's the point of networking?' in this post: Editorial colleagues and what they can teach us.
And here are some tips on Networking for introverts.
Some of the above tips on networking can be put into practice at editorial conferences. Here is a round-up of the blog posts that were written about the 2017 Society for Editors and Proofreaders conference.
Working in Word
We all work with MS Word. There are many ways we can use it to help us work more efficiently. Here are some of the best ways:
How do I access the Customize Ribbon menu?
How do I assign a shortcut key?
35 easy keyboard shortcuts
Making the most of the QAT
How learning to modify and apply styles can save you precious time
How to set styles
Lyonizing Word: corruption
What can macros do for editors and proofreaders?
Health & well-being
Molly McCowan advises that freelancers should Avoid burnout by taking mandatory vacations. While you are at your desk, here are a few ways you can keep fit and healthy:
Desk bikes – the tour de your house
Repetitive strain injury 101: what editors need to know
Tips to reduce computer-related eye strain
That's it for this year! I hope you've found it useful. I'm looking forward to reading and sharing more new blog posts in 2018!
How I would have otherwise spent the weekend
This isn’t the blog post I thought I’d be writing after attending the annual conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, but fate had other ideas. Having said that, I think I’d known for a while that I would more than likely be ill. The conference took place two weeks after my son started back to school, and I just knew he’d be riddled with all kinds of fresh germs.
Sure enough, the evening before the conference began, the sore throat and blocked nose made their appearance. The next morning it was even worse, with my throat feeling as if I’d swallowed razor blades. Paracetamol wasn’t touching it. I needed a plan if I was going to survive the weekend. Here’s a summary of what I did to help me get through it and make the most of it all, and I hope it helps others plan for this eventuality.
Luckily, I had already planned a relatively quiet week after the conference, as I knew that I'd be exhausted, cold or no cold – a lot of us editorial folk tend to be introverts and, as much as we enjoy each other’s company, getting to know and learning from one another, 48 hours of almost constant stimulation is too much for most of us, and we need time to retreat and recover, also, time to absorb and perhaps begin to apply what we have learned.
Even if you are fighting fit at the conference, you may well go home with unwanted germs, as several of my colleagues have done (I’m so sorry to any who caught them from me!) and so for all these reasons it’s best to have no work booked in for this week, if at all possible.
In spite of feeling rough throughout the conference, I did enjoy it very much and learned a lot. However, I’m really looking forward to going to a conference when I am 100% because it’s bound to be even better! So, fingers crossed for next time!
The 1940 and 2014 editions of Across the Black Waters side by side
At the end of April this year, I was thrilled to receive an email from Dominic Rai, presenting me with an opportunity to work on a unique project.
My job: to proofread a classic war novel written in the late 1930s and set during World War One.
The project, named Salt of the Sarkar, launched in 2014 at the House of Commons with the publication of a new edition of the novel Across the Black Waters by Mulk Raj Anand, which was first published in 1940.
Unfortunately, it has since come to light that, over the years and by way of several editions of the book, the text has deviated from the original, quite significantly in some places, with the result that the 2014 edition is not true to Mulk Raj Anand’s 1940 first edition. And so, it has been my absolute privilege as a proofreader to revert the text to the original, proofreading the document used to create the 2014 edition against a rare copy of that first 1940 edition, so that a further new – and this time illustrated – edition can be published, hopefully this autumn if sufficient funds can be raised in time.
The job turned out not to be as straightforward as it first seemed. The document I was working on was most likely generated by scanning an earlier edition of the book and then using optical character recognition to allow it to be exported to Word. This had created many formatting problems, most of which would not normally be part of a proofreader’s job to fix. These were issues that would usually be dealt with at an earlier stage by an editor (or a proofreader who specialises in checking such documents). Fortunately, I had recently begun a course in editing, so, armed with what I was learning from that, combined with advice from highly experienced editorial colleagues, I was able to correct everything, resulting in a clean and tidy document, which will help when it comes to the next stage of designing the interior of the book ready for printing.
There were certain other problems resulting from the conversion that do fall under the usual remit of a proofreader; for example, ‘a dog’s tail’ had been rendered as ‘a clog’s tail’, and several instances of a square bracket – ] – instead of a capital J; both simple fixes.
Changes I expected to find, and did find, are those that result from updating styles to reflect modern trends and usage – spelling, hyphenation, capitalisation and italicisation. Such changes are normal and usually acceptable when new editions are published with decades in between.
However, I found a great deal more changes than these. More surprising even than the formatting issues, I was not expecting to find so many changes to the narrative. Dominic had alerted me to a couple; for example, on the very first page, ‘the hot, red afternoon’ had at some point in a later edition become ‘the cold afternoon’ and the clause ‘he hated all Sikhs’, also from the first chapter, had been removed. These changes could possibly be explained by someone editing for a new Indian edition, who perhaps didn’t understand the climate in France, and who also wanted to remove anything that could cause offence. But I was astonished when I discovered that whole passages – hugely significant passages – had vanished (see image from chapter 7 for an example of this, with underlined words showing missing text). I cannot fathom why anyone would do such a thing. It is the job of an editor or a proofreader to respect the author’s voice, not to obliterate the very passages that contribute to making the book a great work of literature.
Respecting the author’s voice also includes not changing their intended meaning. But I found several instances of this, too. The image from chapter 9 shows an example. Again, I have no idea why anyone would decide to change something in a way that makes the main protagonist act completely out of character.
Across the Black Waters and Me
As someone who has studied many European languages, and has seen how languages borrow words or adapt them from other languages, I’ve been fascinated to learn about the contribution Indian words have made to the English language; just a couple of examples are bungalow – the type of house lived in by Europeans in India (Bengal originally, hence the word bungalow), and Blighty – from ‘Vilayat’ which means ‘foreign/European’ but is used in the book to refer to Britain and France as a sort of dream destination.
I didn’t study World War One at school – we concentrated on World War Two – so this has been a real eye-opener for me. Of course, I’ve seen TV programmes and films set during World War One, but this is the first novel I’ve read that concentrates on the soldiers’ day-to-day lives, and I feel I now have some insight into what life must have been like, not just for the Indian soldiers, but for all soldiers who witnessed the horrors of trench warfare. They weren’t always in the trenches, though. One of my great-grandfathers sent postcards home from France during the First World War and I’ve often wondered how that was possible, but now I know. This book is not only for war buffs; it is accessible to all readers and everyone can take something away from it.
As well as feeling honoured to be chosen to take part in a project of such historical significance, I was drawn to the job on a personal level because of my family connection, not just to World War One, but to India: my grandfather was there during World War Two. Therefore, proofreading Across the Black Waters has been an honour, a huge learning opportunity for me, and a matter of personal significance. As far as I know, not many proofreaders have the chance to work on something like this, and so I consider myself extremely fortunate to have done it at all, and particularly at such a relatively early stage in my proofreading career – I had just completed my first year in business when Dominic contacted me.
Hopes for the Book
I have had lengthy conversations with Dominic about the book and about the project as a whole. I am in awe of his commitment, for his involvement goes way back to twenty years ago, when he obtained the permission and blessing of Mulk Raj Anand himself to put on a stage production of Across the Black Waters. Mulk was already in his nineties then, and has since passed away. I dearly hope that he would be happy with the book we are aiming to produce now: one that gives the reader the closest possible experience of reading his original version, but with the addition of genuine images of Indian soldiers arriving in France, obtained from the archives of the Daily Mirror, and an introduction written for the 2014 edition by Alastair Niven, who is not only a highly respected figure in the world of literature, and a judge of the Man Booker Prize in 2014, but who was also Mulk’s friend.
This blog post was originally published at saltsarkar.com
I didn't publish a blog post last month, for the first time since I started blogging last August. I went away for a few days after Easter, with my family, to Beaulieu in Hampshire – a beautiful place indeed. While I was away I decided it was time to start a course in copy-editing. I booked onto the online course before checking out of the hotel on the Thursday morning so that I could start studying as soon as I arrived home and spend a long weekend working on it.
I was making good progress when, on the Monday morning, I received an email from Pinter & Martin asking if I was available to proofread a book. Absolutely. So they sent me the manuscript.
It's not every day you get 100 penises in your inbox, unless you get a lot of spam – luckily I don't. Far from being an unwanted communication, this was a very welcome opportunity to proofread a groundbreaking new book.
Two years ago, Bare Reality: 100 women, their breasts, their stories was published – a collection of interviews and photographs by Laura Dodsworth, who has now followed up this fascinating project with Manhood: the bare reality, in which 100 men also reveal all – their penises, as well as their life experiences and their thoughts on masculinity and what that word even means in this day and age. Laura was interviewed on Loose Women about the first book, and it was featured in magazines including Cosmopolitan (for the full list of media coverage see here), so I'm looking forward to seeing how this new book will be received – there has already been a preview in The Guardian (which has been shared more than 30,000 times!) prior to publication on 15 June.
I've worked on another very special book this month, also for Pinter & Martin: Why Starting Solids Matters by Amy Brown. It's a book I would have found invaluable four years ago when my own child was about to start eating solid foods. It’s a tricky time for parents, trying to navigate the torrent of conflicting advice from well-meaning family and friends, healthcare professionals, the media and various parenting guides. Amy is an associate professor in child public health at Swansea University and an expert in infant nutrition, and in this small but information-packed book she explains the science behind the available options, enabling parents to make informed decisions. This one has also attracted some media attention already, prior to publication on 8 June, on the websites of several national newspapers, including the Daily Express. (I’m not including the link to The Sunday Times because that article misrepresented what the author said, and I refuse to link to the Daily Mail!)
It's been an incredibly busy month and my feet haven't touched the floor. As well as the above I’ve also proofread a Master’s dissertation, and I'm currently working on a historically significant project (more on that at a later date), which I’m very excited about and which has involved meeting with my client at the tearoom of Tredegar House in Newport (below) – a convenient location for us both, which just happens to be beautiful. It’s also occasionally the chosen location for our local SfEP group meetings. It's safe to say I'm loving the freelance life!
You love the English language; you've always enjoyed reading; you've spotted errors in published books, or even seen ways in which the book could be improved – so, you think that maybe you could be a proofreader or a copy-editor.
But where do you start?
A surprising number of people think that, just because they were good at English at school and fancy having a go, it’s okay to ask established editors and proofreaders to pass work on to them. Um, no, that's not how it works – and it could be taken as quite an insult by someone who has spent years building up their skills and client list. There's a lot more to it than you might think; becoming an editorial professional is a long hard slog and requires a diverse set of skills in order to make a success of it. Instead, if you're really serious, here are some signposts you should follow.
Go to a local group meeting of editorial professionals. This is a fantastic opportunity to seek advice (not work) from those who are already doing the job. It's a quick and easy way for you to find out whether this is a realistic option for you. In just an hour or two, with little or no cost involved – perhaps transport and a cup of coffee – you could discover whether you're suited to this kind of work, what's involved, plus you will have already begun to build your support network (believe me, you'll need one). This is an example of one such group. If you're in the UK, you can find your local group here.
Still interested? Then join a professional organisation. In the UK, it’s the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). You don’t have to live in the UK to join the SfEP, but here are some of the other professional organisations from around the English-speaking world:
Ireland: Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers (AFEPI)
US: Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), also, American Copy Editors Society (ACES)
Canada: Editors Canada/Editors Association of Canada (EAC)
Australia: Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd)
Being a member of one (or more) of these organisations shows potential clients that you are a responsible professional, and each organisation usually offers its own set of benefits to help you on your way to becoming qualified and gaining experience.
Get training. The SfEP offers training courses at a discount to members, which is just one of many good reasons to join sooner rather than later. An alternative provider in the UK is the Publishing Training Centre (PTC). There are other providers; however, with the SfEP and PTC you know you will be getting an industry-recognised qualification that will stand you in good stead if you hope to work with publishers and will also give you the skills you need to impress private clients.
Don't give up the day job. If you already have a job, don't quit it thinking you will be up and running as a freelance editor or proofreader in no time. It usually takes a couple of years before newcomers have managed to build up a steady stream of income.
How to find work, or how to get work to find you
Set up a website. SfEP Internet Director, John Espirian, has excellent advice on how to do this. Make sure you list any specialist knowledge gained from a degree or work experience, or even a hobby. This is your unique selling point and could really help you in the early days.
Market yourself. Don’t expect potential clients to just stumble across your website with no effort on your part. Set up a Facebook page, Twitter account and LinkedIn profile and use them to help direct people to your website by posting and engaging regularly. Start a blog. Louise Harnby offers a wealth of detailed marketing advice on her blog and in her book.
Network. Don't just join a professional body, get involved – use the forums to get to know and learn from fellow editors and proofreaders, many of whom have decades of experience. You can also interact with other editors on social media. Don't expect anybody to just hand you work on a plate, but if you spend enough time with your colleagues you just never know what opportunities may come your way!
What did I do?
I began my journey three years ago and it's almost one year now since I started my proofreading business. I did all of the above, although not necessarily in that order – my first step was to do the training. Not everyone will follow exactly the same path to a career in editing – you have to take the route that’s best for you – but I strongly recommend stopping off at all of these points and definitely undertaking some training before attempting to find paid work. And remember this: there are no shortcuts if you want to be taken seriously by better-paying clients. If you follow the above signposts, you should have a much more successful journey and reach your planned destination without getting too lost along the way!
I recently proofread a novel in which one of the characters is prone to malapropisms (mistakenly using a word that sounds similar to the correct word, often with comic effect). I can't give you examples from the book because it hasn't been published yet, but Oxford Dictionaries gives the example ‘to dance a flamingo’ instead of ‘flamenco’. There were several instances where this character used the wrong words in common expressions. This led me to think about proverbs and idioms that people frequently get wrong.
The proof is in the pudding. This is one I often hear or read. The correct phrase is the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
You've got another thing coming. What thing? No, think about it, it’s ... if you think I’m going to do that, you’ve got another think coming!
He was talking nine to the dozen. Was he really? That’s pretty slow. I think you meant to say he was talking nineteen to the dozen.
There are other idioms that started out as one thing but then became another. Perhaps some started out as malapropisms, but they actually made more sense than the original versions in contemporary language and so they stuck, although the originals are also still in use.
Parthian shot – this refers to Parthian archers who, while retreating at speed, turned back to fire arrows on their enemy. The alternative, almost identical sounding, parting shot is more commonly used these days to describe a final, usually cutting remark made by a person on leaving a conversation before anyone else has a chance to respond.
To welsh/welch on – to fail to honour a deal or promise. The origin is unknown, but is believed to reflect past hostility between the Welsh and the English. Being Welsh, I obviously prefer the latter spelling! Being married to a Dutchman, I also prefer the latter explanation of the following.
Dutch courage – this describes the confidence gained by drinking an alcoholic beverage. One possible origin of this is that, when at war with the Netherlands, the English believed that the Dutch could only face going into battle with them when armed with this (false) confidence. Another possible origin is that Dutch gin was drunk by both English and Dutch soldiers before battle, whether to simply calm the nerves or induce bravery.
Over the years, I’ve come across many Dutch sayings. There are some that we can understand when translated literally, either immediately or after a little thought, such as ...
Van een vlieg een olifant maken = to make an elephant out of a fly. Yep, you guessed it, it’s the same as making a mountain out of a molehill.
Then there are others that don’t make any sense when translated into English and require some explanation.
De aap komt uit de mouw = the monkey comes out of the sleeve. This is based on an old magic trick and means that the truth of a situation or a person's character becomes known.
Dood of de gladiolen = death or the gladioli (referring to Roman times when victorious gladiators were showered with the blooms). This is similar to death or glory, and means all or nothing.
Een slag van de molen weg hebben = to have been hit by a windmill, meaning to act crazy.
Met de mond vol tanden staan = to stand with the mouth full of teeth, meaning to be speechless.
De baard nog in de keel hebben = to still have a beard in the throat, meaning a boy’s voice is breaking.
Finally, I’ll just leave you with this one to work out for yourself ...
Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest = as if an angel is peeing on your tongue.
Feel free to post your guesses in the comments below!
New year, new regime
January is a good time to get organised, so one of my resolutions this year is to keep a proper work diary. Although I've always been an organised person (I'm an avid list-maker and diary-keeper) I only started my business nine months ago, and I’ve spent a lot of that time finding my feet. So, although I did make plans and lists, it was all rather random – on whichever piece of paper was closest, or as a memo on my phone. It worked, but, for what will be my first full year in business, I'm determined to do better and pick up tried-and-tested old habits again. This has given me a chance to reflect on how I’ve used diaries in the past and the impact it’s had on my life – and I'm hoping that this reflection will help me come up with the most efficient method of journaling for my business.
Step back in time
The first year I kept a diary was 1983 – the year I turned ten. It was all very simple in those days ... Played with so-and-so after school ... and the like. In subsequent years my diaries became filled with teen angst and the minutest details about what my latest crush had been up to. There was some indication of my organisational skills in that I always kept a separate calendar diary. I also included useful information in my regular diary, such as what I’d had for tea and a daily weather report – surprisingly fascinating when you look back. Some years I gave each day a mark out of ten, then an overall score for each week.
The first year I combined my personal diary with my calendar diary and to-do lists was 1992 – the year I was at college doing A-levels. In those days I had all the time in the world to plan – and to dream. As a result, that diary was full of doodles from cover to cover (flowers and geometric shapes, mostly). There was an area for notes at the end of each week and there I added my to-do lists, hopes, dreams, more doodles, and favourite poems and song lyrics. Often the to-do list was carried forward to the following week. Okay, so I was trying to be organised, but I confess I lacked motivation and I procrastinated. A lot. I was the kind of teenager who would spend so much time planning my exam-revision timetable that I would run out of time to actually revise.
Old habits died a death
I successfully kept detailed diaries for a few more years after my return home, but then motherhood got in the way and smartphones eventually took on the job of keeping my calendar and to-do lists. However, now that I'm back behind a desk, I want to return to paper. It's a more permanent, reliable method – many a phone has died on me, but I still have all my old paper diaries. I work from home, so I don't have to worry about it being easily portable.
Back to the future
I’d already purchased a wall-mounted year planner and marked it up to show when I have work booked in, when I am unavailable for work, and important dates, such as meetings, so that I can respond quickly when I get a call or an email from a client asking if I'm available. But what about a desk diary for the day-to-day notes and reminders?
I did buy a week-to-view diary, but then I started hearing good things about bullet journals. I had no idea what a bullet journal was, so I did some Googling and up popped this Buzzfeed article.
So, I thought I'd give it a go. I've used most of the ideas from the article for the skeleton of my journal, but for the main body – what I do from week to week – I’m following the method that worked best for me in the past: a week to a page, with the days of the week listed and a section for notes underneath.
I'm going to resist the urge to buy lots of expensive, colourful pens and spend hours doodling to make my journal look pretty; I don't have the spare time that I had back in 1992, unfortunately. So, instead, I've just chosen a notepad that already has a flowery cover – smart thinking, see! I'm going to stay focused and use my time more wisely – which is the whole point of this endeavour, isn't it? Less dreaming, more planning and more achieving.
What I’ve learned
There are lots of ways to keep a diary/journal. It's good to get ideas from other people, but you need to find the way that works best for you and your lifestyle, otherwise you will lose interest and motivation. If you're not artistic, don't worry about trying to make the pages of your journal look pretty. Being motivated is the key factor. If you don’t enjoy your day-to-day life – whether hobbies, work or family life – then it will be near impossible to keep up the momentum required to stay organised. Figure out exactly what you want and slowly work towards it. Try to focus on what you have achieved and build on that. Let go of unrealistic ideas and expectations – for the time being at least.
It was by first making changes in my everyday life (getting a better job and working on refurbishing my house) that I ended up being able to dramatically change my whole life for the better (ultimately, by following my dream of going travelling). Being organised in itself didn’t effect that change – motivation did that – but it was a way of ensuring that it all went smoothly. And so now I want to apply that to my business. I definitely have the motivation – I love my job and I’m working hard to be good at it and make a success of it – and being organised will help ensure that I don’t make mistakes or miss opportunities along the way.
This desire to take full control of my work life is partly fuelled by an inability to fully control my home life: my house is a mess, with toys all over the place (fortunately, my study has a lockable door). My dining room has been a shop for the past three weeks, reminiscent of Reggie Perrin's Grot Shop. So, if anyone knows how to convince a small child to stop making a mess, or perhaps tidy up occasionally, please let me know!