Managing expectations when hiring a copyeditor or copywriter

Great Expectations, Miss Haversham

 

You’ve written the book. It’s taken blood, sweat and tears but you know if it’s going to be a success you need to send it to an editor.

Or you’ve built your business, but you know to make the right impression you need help with the writing.

Unless you’ve done this before it can be a minefield of unknowns. You don’t know if you’re approaching the right person, leaving enough time, understanding the process or have enough pennies set aside for what you need.

Let’s face it, it can be a bloody nightmare.

But if you manage your expectations it can be fairly straightforward.

Lists are good, so let’s break it down into four categories:

Treatment

Timescale

Price

Accuracy

 

Now let’s look at them in more detail

first aid kit

Treatment

Treatment means what do you need? What treatment does your project require?

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If you’re an author you might need:

substantial or developmental editing (the big picture edit)

copyediting or line editing (the nitty gritty stuff)

proofreading (when you’re just about finished and you need someone to make one last check for typos etc.)

Each of these will probably need a different editor. You can find editors who specialise in each area via professional directories such as the SfEP directory in the UK, or the ACES (American Copy Editors Society) directory in the US.

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Don’t expect one editor to do it all. Some editors do work on all levels of editing, but some specialise in just one. Each different area is a distinct part of the editing process and, let’s be honest, you have to pay for each one separately.

You might not need developmental editing, but you’re likely to need a copy edit and a proofread.

Expect to work with a professional who knows what they are doing. If you find an editor via a professional directory such as the SfEP, you can be pretty sure that the editor has proven their credentials (experience, education and professionalism). This means you don’t need to go through and query everything they do. This is their job – trust them.

business briefcase

If you’re a business you might need:

copywriting (someone to write your stuff for you)

copyediting or line editing (the nitty gritty stuff, even a professional writer needs copyediting)

proofreading (when you’re just about finished and you need someone to make one last check for typos etc.)

 

You might need a writer to help you get your stuff together, to get your ideas out there. Once it’s written you’ll still benefit from a copyeditor and proofreader.

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Don’t expect your copywriter to be a mind reader. Try to give them as much information as you can, this will make the whole experience easier for both of you.

Again expect to work with a professional who knows what they are doing.

 time, clocks, stopwatch

Timescale

Timescale means how long you set aside on your calendar for the work to be done. How much time do you have? Have you set aside enough time for your editor or writer to get the work done properly? Do you need a ‘quick and dirty’ treatment, where you will sacrifice quality, or are you willing to plan ahead and leave enough time for a good job?

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If you’re an author you will need:

To plan ahead and not wait until your book’s finished before you approach your editors.

To research what treatment you need and how long it’s likely to take.

To talk to editors and see how booked up their schedule is.

To finish your book in plenty of time to make sure you’re ready to send your completely finished manuscript to your editor when your slot comes up.

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Don’t expect to bag an editor within a short time of your enquiry. Many editors are booked up in advance, sometimes months (or even years) in advance.

Expect to talk to your preferred editor in advance, arrange to get yourself booked in and make sure you have a completed project ready for your editor on the date allocated. If you get behind schedule tell your editor as soon as possible, and you may need to rearrange your allocation.

 business briefcase

If you’re a business you will need:

To plan ahead and not wait until the last minute to book your copywriter or before you approach your editors.

To research what treatment you need (copywriting, copyediting or proofreading) and how long it’s likely to take.

To talk to writers and editors and see how booked up their schedule is.

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Don’t expect someone to drop what they’re doing to accommodate your needs. Copywriters and copyeditors are professionals who need to have their schedules organised well in advance. If you’re a business on a retainer you may have more flexibility, but otherwise you have to wait your turn and be patient.

Expect to talk to your preferred writer or editor in advance, arrange to get yourself booked in and make sure you have a completed project ready on the date allocated. If you get behind schedule tell your writer or editor as soon as possible, and you may need to rearrange your allocated slot.

 

 money, banknotes

Price

Price means knowing how much you’ll need to allocate in your budget for each type of treatment. Writing and editing are skills, and won’t be cheap. Writers and editors are professionals, often with years of training and experience behind them, and just like any other professional they need to earn a decent living. Their rate will reflect this.

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If you’re an author you might need:

To research prices, see what you can afford and budget accordingly.

To wait until you can afford the level of editor you want, or perhaps compromise and hire someone less experienced or qualified.

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Don’t expect an editor to give you a discount because you’re a ‘small publisher’, an author or have limited funds. Sometimes a discretionary discount may be given, but that’ll be up to the editor who’ll have strict criteria for discount giving. Don’t expect to have a first-class job done for a third-class price.

Expect to get what you pay for. Also expect to do a little research to find the best editor who fits your pricing criteria. You might not be able to afford me, but you might be able to afford an editor who is just breaking into the field. Expect to compromise if budgets are limited, and don’t forget that what’s expensive to one author is reasonable to another.

 business briefcase

If you’re a business you might need:

To research prices, see what you can afford and budget accordingly.

To understand freelance rates. Freelance rates often seem higher than employee wages, but you pay a flat fee and don’t have to figure in tax, holiday pay, sick pay, pensions and all those other employee perks. Even the most expensive freelance rates compare favourably to employee wages.

To wait until you can afford the level of writer or editor you want, or perhaps compromise and hire someone less experienced or qualified.

 glass ball icon

Don’t expect a writer or editor to give you a discount because you’re a ‘small business’, a sole trader or have limited funds. Sometimes a discretionary discount may be given, but that’ll be up to the professional who’ll have strict criteria. As above, don’t expect to have a first-class job done for a third-class price.

Expect to get what you pay for. Also expect to do a little research to find the best professional who fits your pricing criteria. You might feel that I’m too expensive, and you might be able to afford someone who’s just breaking into the field, however expect compromise if your budget’s limited. What’s expensive to one business is reasonable to another.

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Accuracy

Accuracy means the amount of typos and errors left in your manuscript at the end of the editing cycle or the accuracy of the writing carried out by a copywriter.

 quill pen

If you’re an author you might need:

To know when to stop fiddling. Every time you make just one, tiny change to your manuscript it can have a domino effect on the whole document.

To understand that two pairs of eyes are better than one. That’s why it’s often best to hire both a copy editor and a proofreader. A proofreader will pick up the small errors left by an editor. Fresh eyes are less used to the content and more likely to give that final polish.

To realise you get what you pay for. An editor expected to work at break-neck speed on an error-riddled text is more likely to leave a higher percentage of errors than one who has the time to go through the document properly.

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Don’t expect 100% accurate copy. Lisa Poisso has a very readable article on error rates, go and read it when you’ve finished this post. Many ‘errors’ are style choices. A document with multiple problems at the start is less likely to be as error free as you’d hope.

Expect to trust your editor. I can’t stress this enough. We are trained. We know what we’re doing. If you don’t have any solid style preferences, let your editor get on with their job and don’t query every single change. It will make both your jobs less stressful and time consuming.

 business briefcase

If you’re a business you might need:

To know when to stop fiddling. Every time you make just one, tiny change to your writing or your writer’s brief it can have a domino effect on the whole project.

To brief your writer appropriately. To get anywhere near accurate copy, you’ll need to let your writer know exactly what you need, what resources to use (if you can) and to back up any claims with factual documentation. Your writer can’t claim that you’re the ‘World’s Number One Flying Pig Trainer’ unless you give them proof that you are.

To understand that two pairs of eyes are better than one, and even a professional writer will need editing. That’s why it’s often best to hire both a copy editor and a proofreader for your project. A proofreader will pick up the small errors left by an editor. Fresh eyes are less used to the content and more likely to give that final polish.

To realise you get what you pay for. A writer, or editor, expected to work at break-neck speed is more likely to leave a higher percentage of errors than one who has the time to go through the document properly.

 glass ball icon

Don’t expect perfect accuracy from your writer the first time unless you give them a perfect brief. As business owner, you are responsible for checking accuracy and making sure that copy conforms to standard. And don’t expect 100% accurate copy back from your copy editor. Lisa Poisso, as noted above, has a very readable article on error rates, go and read it when you’ve finished this post. Many ‘errors’ are style choices. A document that has multiple problems at the start is less likely to be as error free as you’d hope.

Expect to trust your writer and editor. Again, I can’t stress this enough. We are trained. We know what we’re doing. If you don’t have any solid style preferences, let them get on with their job. It will make both your jobs less stressful and time consuming.

 

So how do you manage your expectations?

Some expectations are realistic, while some are far from it. When you start a project, if you bear in mind what we’ve talked about, your expectations should run in line with those of your writer or editor (and remember we have expectations of clients too!).

So, to recap:

first aid kit

Treatment

Expect to work with professionals who know what they’re doing so you shouldn’t need to query every change they make. But don’t expect them to be mind readers either.

Don’t expect a ‘one person does all’ scenario.

 time, clocks, stopwatch

Timescale

Expect to talk to your writer or editor in plenty of time, and book well in advance. Also remember to let them know as soon as possible if you can’t meet the date allocated.

Don’t expect a writer or editor to drop everything to accommodate you unless you’ve paid a retainer.

 money, banknotes

Price

Expect to get what you pay for – different levels of editing and writing cost different amounts. Also expect to compromise on quality, scope or timescale if your budget is limited.

Don’t expect discounts.

darts-155726_1280

Accuracy

Expect to trust your writer or editor and don’t query every change. Acknowledge that your writer can’t make claims without having proof to back them up.

Don’t expect 100% accuracy, and understand that some ‘errors’ are style choices and a document that starts off with multiple problems is less likely to be error free,

 

Realistic expectations, on both sides, are the key to a healthy working relationship.

If you’re looking to hire a copywriter or copy editor in the near future, contact me about your requirements. Let’s talk!

 

 

 

A Pain-free Editing Checklist For Authors

 

I’ve been thinking lately (I know, it’s as much a shock to me as it is to you).

There’s one main thing that tends to add tension to a working relationship if you’re editing non-fiction or business documents, or having your fiction writing edited.

And it’s something that’s SO easily remedied.

first aid kit

It’s simply not being prepared (and before you ask, I got thrown out of the Girl Guides … long story).

once upon a time

 

Both sides need to be prepared as much as possible to make for a smooth job. If one side, or the other, isn’t really prepared (but they think they are) tensions can arise

So I’ve got a simple checklist to make the experience as painless as possible for you. (Don’t worry about me, despite my short-lived Girl Guide experience, I’m always prepared.)

 blank checklist

 

Pain-free edit checklist

1. Make sure your writing really is finished.

Fiddling once you’ve sent your document to an editor is a big no-no. Huge. It causes more problems than you can imagine. The phrases ‘just a small change’, ‘can you just …’ and ‘here are the missing paragraphs I forgot to tell you about’ strike fear into the heart of most editors. We either have to say ‘no, no more changes’ as nicely and firmly as possible, or watch our schedule slide out of control.

Every editor works differently, but basically we work on a document as a whole. That means when you send us your text we’ll go though it in a variety of ways, especially when we’re creating a style sheet (to keep things nice and consistent for you if you haven’t specified your own preferences).

So, when you send us a forgotten paragraph, even at the start of the edit, we’ll probably have gone through a few checks already. And this means that the new text won’t have been checked. As a result we might have to run a number of extra checks to make sure it fits in with the rest. Adding time and frustration.

The same happens if you decide to alter the wording. For example, you keep reading the text once you’ve sent it off to your editor and decide the word you’ve used in one sentence isn’t as effective as the one you’ve decided upon at 8 p.m. over an Irish coffee after dinner. When you send that ‘can you just change this’ email it sends a ripple effect through the document (and probably time and space).

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Pain-free editing tip 1: only send a FINISHED document to your editor. Then leave it alone. Do not touch. Once it’s with your editor it’s going through a process that can cost time and money to alter.

 

2. Don’t use fancy formatting.

Checklist number two is don’t be tempted to use fancy formatting or give us a document that’s how you envisage the finished book will look. We edit, therefore we need as clean a document as possible. Save the fancy stuff for the end, once the edit is finished and you’re sending the document to a typesetter, designer or setting it out yourself.

Don’t add fancy fonts, images or anything else. Make a note (in red) if you want to key in images you want, and add them in a separate file if you have to, but don’t include them in the document. We only have to strip them all out again.

When an editor gets a document that’s all fancy and looks like a beautifully-designed book interior a piece of us dies inside. We know all the work that’s gone into it. It’s taken blood, sweat and tears as the author decides just how their document will look. They might even have spent hours looking for the detailed brush script that perfectly enhances their dark, gothic writing style.

But it all has to go.

All of it.

rubbish bin

The editor has to go through the entire document and strip out the images (making a note of what the image was to enable it to be keyed back in at a later stage). They have to make sure the line spaces are adequate enough to enable a comfortable edit and change the font to a ‘boring’ standard font such as Times New Roman or Calibri, to make the document workable. They also have to make a note of all those fancy bits in case they’ve been used for emphasis or other important areas of text.

This takes time.

Sometimes a lot of time.

Your editor may charge you extra for all this, and believe me you don’t want a bill for extra hours that you could have easily avoided.

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Pain-free editing tip 2: plain and simple may be boring, but it’ll save your editor much heartache (and will probably save you a nasty surprise on the bill).

 

3. Get permissions before sending to your editor (or publisher).

That means don’t just lift images from the internet, and don’t use large quotes (or copy paragraphs) from your sources. And definitely don’t use lyrics or poems unless you really, really have to. If you have to use something that you don’t own the copyright to (which is basically anything you haven’t created yourself), find out who does own it and apply to them for permission to reproduce. And be prepared to pay for the privilege.

Permissions take time.

It’s better to seek permission before you hit the editing stage, as you have to find the copyright owner, then find their contact details, then send an email (or sometimes even a paper letter, or phone them) then wait. There’s a reason publishing houses have special permissions staff. It’s a complicated, legal issue and you have to wait for the copyright holder to get back to you. You could be lucky and it could take a few days. Or you might have to wait weeks (or months) for a reply. Sometimes you might never receive a reply, which means you can’t use the material.

Once the reply comes back you might have to change your plan if the price is too high, or if the answer is a solid ‘no’. For a simple one line quote, or an image, you could be looking at a LOT of money. This could mean a rewrite, or altering or cutting huge chunks of text.

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Pain-free editing tip 3: seek permission to use other people’s material well in advance of the editing stage. That way your edit won’t get held up.

4. Create a style sheet.

A style sheet is a document that goes into detail about language preferences for your document (it can also include any other information you’ve decided on for the look of your project).

If you feel you’re not confident in creating a style sheet, make a list of any preferences you have, which dictionary you use (yes, dictionaries differ in their treatment of words) and anything you think your editor should be aware of. Your editor will create a style sheet anyway, but it’s good to know your preferences before they start editing. Undoing a thousand alterations when the author decides to stet everything can be soul destroying.

Just because you’ve always done something the same way doesn’t mean it’s correct. Anything you put on your style sheet should ideally be backed up with a reason (but you don’t have to put the reason on your sheet, just know it’s there for when you’re asked).

It’s a simple thing to do, but makes for a less stressful edit if your editor knows in advance that you prefer things done a certain way.

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Pain-free editing tip 4: create a style sheet of your preferred wordy styles. Your editor will thank you for it.

 

5. Make sure you have plenty of time.

When you’re looking for an editor you really do have to think in advance. The chances of hiring one as soon as you’ve finished writing are slim – most get booked up in advance. You’re looking at at least a month’s wait, possibly more. Sometimes you might get lucky, but don’t count on it (for example I sometimes leave gaps in my schedule in case anything nice turns up, but it’s often just time I’m intending to take off and dedicate to other areas of my business).

Some editors I know are booked up at least six months in advance at any one time. Really, you have to either book your editor in advance (and make damn sure you finish your writing in enough time to get it really finished [see tip 1] before sending to them), or you have to wait until you’ve finished and book an editor for a few months later. Obviously this will depend on the nature of your document and whether there’s a tight timescale.

You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I get an email asking for an edit to start immediately. It’s frustrating for an editor to have to say no to a lovely job because you’re fully booked up, and it can also mean the writer has to either choose to wait or perhaps use an editor with space but who is perhaps less than qualified.

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Pain-free editing tip 5: Think about booking your editor in advance, or accept there will be a wait (getting mad or trying to wheedle your way into the schedule probably won’t help).

 

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There are so many other things that will help to make the edit a pleasant experience, but if you have these five things sorted you’re on the right path.

 

Here’s a handy summary:

  1. Make sure your writing really is finished.
  2. Don’t use fancy formatting.
  3. Get permissions before sending to your editor (or publisher).
  4. Create a style sheet.
  5. Make sure you have plenty of time.

 

These are just my top five. Are you an editor with a different list you prefer? Or have you been edited and found something else just as important?

Let me know, it’s good to share.

 

Being an Advanced Human

Society for Editors and Proofreaders, SfEP, Advanced Professional Member

I’ve been so lazy recently.

Well, actually I haven’t been, I’ve been working my arse off. But after so many lovely people decided to share my ‘Editors matter to business’ article I decided to let things lie for a while, just hoping more people would see the post. It’s important that we get the message across to as many businesses as possible. Businesses need editors. Keep sharing, people!

But this week I have cause to celebrate, so I’m going to be self-indulgent.

You see, when I joined the SfEP one of my main aims was to become an Advanced Professional Member.

I love the community feeling and the availability of professional development that you get with the society, but I like to have goals. APM was my goal.

winning, professional advancement

 

I’ve talked before about imposter syndrome. Despite what some professionals believe, I think it’s important we talk about it. Everyone has it (well, unless you’re super-duper confident or a bullshitter). And if you’re self-employed it’s a challenge that most people will come across. It doesn’t mean you can’t do your job, and it doesn’t mean that you aren’t fantastic at your job – some of the most brilliant people I know have struggled with the feeling that everyone else is better and you’re going to get found out soon.

william shakespeare
I’ll bet even Shakespeare had imposter syndrome.

I certainly don’t think talking about imposter syndrome puts clients off. We’re human, and if they don’t get that, well they’re obviously looking for an automated service. I like to share my humanness. I talk to people (ok, they probably wish I’d shut up, but hey, that’s who I am). I’m bloody good at my job, but I do have my wobbles. It comes from working with words for the past 30 years – I forget that I know stuff other people don’t.

Anyway.

A few months ago I decided that the time was right, and I should just go for it. I gathered together all my certifications, my project records (and my courage), and submitted my application for Advanced Professional Member.

I then tried to forget about it and got on with life.

props table coloured

Every now and then the imposter monster came and sat on my shoulder. I knocked him off with the occasional glass of gin and a reminder that I’m good at what I do. Then I shut him in the cupboard and told him to go away.

 

Freelance cupboard monster

Well, the little man is still in the cupboard, and I hope he’ll stay there for a while.

This week I was informed that I’ve been granted Advanced Professional Membership of the SfEP!

Or, as I have been telling my family, I am now an advanced human.

 

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Advancement shows potential clients, and the world at large, that I have a high level of professional competence and substantial experience. It also shows that I value professional development and take my business seriously.

And it’s just that extra bit of validation for me that, despite what the monster on my shoulder says, I should be proud of my achievements.

I doesn’t mean that I’ll be resting on my laurels though. As I can’t make the SfEP Conference this year, I’ve booked my CPD in the form of Bloody Scotland. I’ll be attending the crime writing masterclass (because I write, as well as edit, this will consolidate my skills in the crime genre rather nicely) and I have a full itinerary of talks booked up.

Let’s see if I can keep thinking of myself as an advanced human right up until then.

winner's trophy

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