September 2019 – conference!

With proofreading being a new venture, I took the decision last year to join the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). I am currently an Entry Level Member, working towards Intermediate Member using their excellent training programme and on-the-job experience.

This year, I decided to attend their annual conference. I’m not great at conferences (actually I would go so far as to say I loathe them) and networking is not really my thing, but I felt it would be good to make more contacts within the Society. This blog is a bit of a whistle-stop tour of what I saw.

Beforehand, I did a bit of preparation. What did I want from this? Well, to make contact with other proofreaders, forge links with others in the industry, get my face known (for better or worse). But also, to force me out of my comfort zone: spend time doing something I would usually shy away from. I researched for advice (and found SfEP already had me in mind) but this article was pretty good too. I took note from both and came up with some plans.

Day One

Early (early enough to consider changing plans…) on the 14th Sept, I began my journey north. I’m no stranger to the West Coast Main Line and Birmingham but it was nice to do it in daylight and at the weekend. It was sunny and warm too, nice for mid-September.

I arrived quite early and got my conference lanyard, which was nicely marked up to show I was a first-timer (intimidating and welcoming at the same time). I had a few hours so went to find some of the famous canals (more canal miles than Venice, don’t you know?) and some lunch.

I returned ready for the speed networking, which I seemed determined to call speed dating whenever I had the opportunity. Just like speed dating (I’m told) you are paired up with another delegate and you have a set amount of time to chat before you are moved on. I met a range of proofreaders/editors from old hands to newbies like me, covering specialisms such as environmental issues, Welsh, fiction, legal, IT and chemistry. It really helped to make some connections for later in the conference and beyond. It took an hour and a half, but the time flew by.

The AGM was held and it was great to hear that the SfEP’s petition to become a chartered institute had been approved – now the work begins to transform into the Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders.

I then attended the drinks reception for fellow first-timers and found myself talking to a few strangers, before sitting down for dinner and a catch-up with Annie from Proofnow.

The day ended with a quiz, which our team (Kevin – I believe this is an in-joke amongst some members…) managed to win by one point. The two lyrics rounds were hard but there was a pleasing lack of questions about grammar.

I finished off the day reviewing some Tweets and making a note of who liked mine so I could try and find them the next day! A modern ice-breaker, wouldn’t you say?

Day Two

Always joyous to see bacon at breakfast. I managed to get full value for money from the buffet but also sat down with strangers and made conversation.

We had a morning address (9.30 on a Sunday…) from the author Chris Brookmyre. He regaled us with tales from his writing career, publishing over twenty books in crime fiction. There was no swearing, whatsoever. This helped wake everyone up in preparation for the day’s activities.

I’d signed up for some sessions that I thought would be useful for me.

The first of the day was “Creating Effective Style Sheets” by Ian Howe. This outlined what a style sheet is (and isn’t) and gave some handy hints on what to include. This is certainly something I will be exploring and expanding further in a future blog. But, ultimately, it is how you (a publisher, author or organisation) decide on certain variables and preferences over spelling, punctuation, presentation and so on.

The second was “Starting Out: A Guide for Newbies” by Claire Handy. Lots of advice on what not to do when starting out, some of which I could have done with 18 months ago! It was during this session that I met some people I only knew via emails, so it was nice to see them in the flesh.

During lunch, I had a chat with another delegate about some potential work – and so it seems attending the conference was paying dividends already.

After lunch, a chance to look at the Historical Thesaurus which contains almost every single word of English ever used, helping authors to use the right word for the era. I imagine I’ll be perusing it at my leisure to find archaic words to use in the future.

The day ended with the Gala Dinner and speech by Rob Drummond, about pedantry and language. A most non-standard after-dinner speech! A toast to the newly-created Institute rounded off the evening.

Day Three

What better way is there to spend a Monday morning than learning about mark-ups in PDFs?

This was presented by Newgen Publishing and ran through what can be done within Adobe Reader, bringing the principles of hard copy proofreading to PDFs. Once you know how, you can apply the same approaches to PDFs as you would hard copy. The demonstration helped bring it all alive. Possibly the most interesting aspect is that for hard copy we have the BSI symbols, setting a standard for marking proofs, but there is not, as yet, any standards for marking electronic copy. This means that different clients will expect different approaches. Perhaps a standard approach is something for the SfEP to look at in the future?

My second session of the day was “Building Better Relationships” by Ruth Thaler-Carter. She went through lots of hints and tips, in a relaxed delivery with no notes at all! We learnt from some of her experiences and she gave plenty to think about for the future. The key is to communicate with your client and the only assumption you should make is that people make assumptions.

After lunch (and I must admit I was expecting buffets with unidentifiable sandwiches for the lunches, but these were worthy of dinners!), I attended a session on Hansard, the official record of Parliamentary business. This was out of genuine interest rather than to help my business. It was fascinating to hear how they get the spoken word in the House of Lords transcribed and published online within three hours. The team works in five-minute shifts in the Chamber, and then spend an hour typing it up before it is edited and collated. This is a monumental task in itself before you think about how to describe the non-verbal events, what can be omitted to make the written record readable (eg errs, ums etc) and how to deal with a dispute over what a member said. They showed videos of events in the Assemblée nationale, US Congress, the Parliament of Australia, the New Zealand Parliament, the Oireachtas and the Cortes Generales and how each Hansard (or equivalent) dealt with the situation. In a perverse way, it was pleasing to see that elected representatives in other countries behave just the same as our own ‘honourable’ members.

The day ended with an address from David Crystal. He has just published the third edition of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language and described some of the developments in the English language and its use since the second edition was published. With over 2 billion speakers, it is bound to change and evolve differently in different parts of the world, but the impact of social media and text messaging is also covered. Of particular interest was the impact of a full stop in WhatsApp messages. Rather than denoting the end of the sentence (since it isn’t usually used) it portrays emotion.

And to the cap the day off, a little win on the raffle!

Now I’m on the train home, reflecting, with another delegate opposite me (but we’re both too tired to engage in more ‘peopling’).

Did I achieve my goals?

Well, I met lots of new people in the industry, met people I knew only by email and have ideas and leads for the future. I also went up to complete strangers and started chatting to them. That in itself was a biggy for me.

So, overall, bit of a win, methinks.

Here’s to #SFEP2020.


Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert, WordperfectVA.


June 2019 – marketing.

June’s blog has been a bit of a tricky one for me, trying to find inspiration. Despite having a number of things to talk about later in the year (when the timing is right) I was at a loss for a topic for June.

Then, it hit me: I’ve been struggling with marketing, so why not talk about that?

I’m not a natural salesman and marketing does not come easily to me; however, running your own business requires you to get stuck into things you may not enjoy, unless you’re lucky enough to be so successful that you can employ someone to do it for you – but that’s a bit of a chicken and egg predicament – you need to be able to afford to employ someone at an early stage in order to have a chance of better sales.

Speaking to other freelancers, and reading up at the SfEP, it seems different things have worked for different people. Some insist they haven’t had to do any marketing – their first few jobs came via word of mouth and it just snowballed; others have insisted social media is the only way to go; others insist printed media is still king. These approaches have all worked for them, so which is right for me?

When I first started, I did some “cold-emailing”, i.e. getting email addresses for publishers etc. and making contact. I struck lucky in that I caught one publisher just as they were working on a couple of financial texts so had a steady stream of work from them. This was a double-edged sword in some ways: I put any further marketing on the back burner, since I had the work to keep me busy.

Then that work came to an end… and I had none lined up because I hadn’t been marketing and had all my eggs in one basket. So, I started again to look into it. I found this article useful and it made me think about what I was selling and to whom.

  • What’s my product?
    • Proofreading, though not exclusively that, as my earlier blogs in February and March discuss, but clearly, I had to market one thing at a time. I’m here to help people get their written material (leaflets, reports, essays, webpages, whatever) accurate and consistent. I’m your final pair of eyes!
  • What’s my target market?
    • For proofreading this could be publishers, organisations and individuals – anyone with some written material that’s going public. Again, I felt I had to target one area at a time.
  • What’s my competition?
    • There are plenty of proofreaders out there, more established and more experienced – so what would attract someone to me? That leads nicely to the next bit really.
  • What’s my niche?
    • This is where, perhaps, I can start to get somewhere. I have a mathematical and financial background. So, publishers of content in those areas would be my niche market, plus some of those lovely students nearby, studying for their degree in such subjects. I can combine my specialist knowledge with a proofread so that any glitches in the technical and specialist areas can be looked over as well.
  • How shall I develop awareness?
    • Well, this blog, as introduced in January, is one approach. I’m on all the major social media and have had articles in some local publications. I’m also networking, something I never thought I’d be doing! I’ve done some good-old-fashioned leafleting as well – seeking out as many community boards as I could, many of which are to be found in coffee shops
  • From where do I gain credibility?
    • Here I fall back on my years in finance and my career record, but then as I work with clients and produce good work, I hope this develops my credibility and reputation.
  • How do I maintain consistency?
    • This is branding – across everything: logos, style etc. I’ve been lucky to have great help from Greenlight in this area. My social media sites are consistent but there’s still work to be done…
  • How do I maintain focus?
    • This is the tricky part – it becomes a job in itself. Doing the occasional post on Facebook is one thing but a sustained campaign on one, or across social media is another. One approach is to outsource – but this has to be worth it with any resulting work covering the cost of doing so. And it isn’t just the initial posts, it is the follow-up of any “likes” or other contact. It’s effectively another email address to monitor.

Lessons learnt?

Marketing is more than just getting an advert in the paper or a presence on Facebook. It is something one has to set aside time to actively do, whatever the approach. It is not an overnight thing – the work has to be put in knowing it may be months until something comes of it (indeed, one response to my paper adverts came a few months after publication).

I could liken it to having children (or incubating eggs). They need consistent nurturing and it’s a long-term commitment. Why do chickens lay eggs? Because if they dropped them, they’d break.

And, it is never quite finished. This website is up and running but needs some work to polish it off and get it in line with social media and I’ve little presence on LinkedIn (for now).

It’s all part of the rich tapestry of running your own business!

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert, WordperfectVA