Fact Checking – Vital or a Waste of Time?

questions, choicesHmmmm.

I spend a lot of my time editing non-fiction; no matter how much I love fiction, the factual stuff takes up more of my time at the moment.

And with factual editing comes fact checking.

Now, you may have a client who says ‘all the facts are correct’ but if, as you are working through the book, or article, or brochure, a ‘fact’ jumps out at you as incorrect, what should you do as a professional wordsmith?

Do you just shrug your shoulders, flag it and move past it, or do you start checking?

What should you do if you’re only being paid for a basic edit, and fact-checking is not included?

If it’s a subject you are very familiar with, you may automatically notice an incorrect ‘fact’, but if you are new to the subject it may not be immediately obvious. And fact-checking is time consuming. VERY time consuming.

time, clocks, rush job

Take, for example, an 80,000 word manuscript that has a lot of company names and personal names.

You spot an error, stop what you are doing and hit the internet.

You need to know if a university professor’s name is correct – so you go to his university webpage and look for the staff list. Easy peasy – but you’ve lost three minutes right there.

You suspect a company name is wrong – again, you look for the company website. Bingo. Three minutes.

But then you come across a name that seems wrong, but he isn’t an academic, nor a company CEO. How do you confirm the spelling? You hit the internet and look at Wikipedia – but beware … although the site is now a LOT more believable than it was, it is still not a primary source, and errors occur. You have to conduct more of a search to pinpoint the actual name, or the one most commonly used. Ten minutes gone. If you are lucky.

There’s a scholarly paper that’s been cited, but it looks odd. Go to the publisher, institute or author. If it’s not there, hit Google Scholar and search. Bang. Ten minutes.

question mark

Say you have an average text of 80,000 words, with an industry standard of 250 words per page. That’s 320 pages.

And there are two possible errors every five pages. That’s a very generous 128 facts to check (I have worked on documents where there have been four or five (or more) facts to check per page!).

Say each fact check takes you on average three minutes – that’s 384 minutes taken over the whole book. Have you done the maths yet? If I’m right, and admittedly I’m rubbish at maths, that means that throughout the course of the edit, you will add on around SIX AND A HALF HOURS for fact checking. SIX AND A HALF HOURS!

Makes you think doesn’t it.

Bet you’ve never looked at it like that have you? It certainly opened my eyes.

worry shock stepping out of comfort zone

So now, with this information, what do you do when you come across a factual error in the work you’re editing?

Ideally fact-checking should be done before the manuscript reaches the copy-editing stage but, if you are required to fact check, get it in writing exactly how much checking you will do, and what types of information will be checked. No matter what you are required to check, be aware of potentially libellous or damaging statements, and flag them up.

You may decide that you can’t live with moving past potential errors – consistency and accuracy are part of a copy-editor’s brief after all. As a professional it’s something you have to be aware of and address.

But errors can creep in in all kinds of ways:

names – personal, place, business.

dates – of anything and everything.

addresses – includes email addresses and websites as well as physical addresses. Addresses are important, especially with company documentation; an incorrect address can be devastating for business.

titles – personal and published. Think nobility, governmental and honorary titles as well as titles of books, periodicals and anything physical, published or not.

instructions and directions – I was taught to write down instructions by breaking them down to the smallest action, something that comes in very handy for checking instructions. Break them down, people, and see if they really make sense.

Remember if you do fact-check – never take the first answer you find, always verify facts with at least two independent sources, and primary sources are your friend.

clock, time, watch

There are a number of ways to deal with fact-checking, and it’s best to lay it down right at the start:

  1. Make it quite clear to the client that fact checking is not included in the negotiated price, but consistency will be attempted and obvious errors flagged for checking.
  2. Allow for a certain, small, amount of fact-checking in your time working on the manuscript. Encompass this in your base rate and don’t charge any extra for it. Flag up any time-consuming searches that may appear – the ones where you know it’s going to be difficult to check them.
  3. Negotiate with the client for an additional flat-fee charge for fact-checking, or an increase of hours quoted for, if it becomes apparent from the editorial sample that there may be an issue with factual information (you do get a sample to look at before agreeing to take on a job, don’t you?).
  4. Negotiate with the client for an additional charge for fact-checking, with a proviso that only XX number of minutes will be spent per manuscript and if work exceeds that, you will return to the client to negotiate further.
  5. Say hell, yes! Dive in, correct all the facts, take as much time as you like, and watch your profits slowly slide away.

It may seem a difficult subject, but some people make a living from fact checking and nothing more. Don’t shy away from talking about this with your client, and don’t take it for granted that you have to fact-check as standard. Negotiate, get it in writing and remember that although a copy-editor’s job can be fascinating, you are a business owner, and must think like one.

A Five-Step Business Communication Model

business, freelance, communication

 

Good communication is important.

Great communication is desirable

Bad communication can be bad for business.

 

This week I’ve come across all three.

A lovely example of great communication came from a large retail company. In July I bought a USB cable for my iPad. By October it had stopped working. It took me two months to get to Inverness, so I duly took the cable … and couldn’t find my receipt. Bugger – no receipt usually means no replacement. But a lovely lad in Stormfront treated me well, he explained that I had plenty of time (there’s a three year warranty) and that if I’d lost my receipt I could take in a bank statement, as long as it showed the correct amount and that it was paid to the store all would be well. I bought the cable in Stirling. No problem, he said.

Yesterday I managed to get back to Inverness, with a one line statement from my bank. Another lovely chap was pleasant, polite and within minutes I had my new cable. No quibble, no hassle. And a new receipt should this cable prove problematic.

You may think that’s just normal customer service, but believe me it’s not. It was a breath of fresh air. As a result I have a new cable, the shop has a new customer (I’ll definitely be going back) and I’d recommend them to anyone.

thumbs up, great service

In total contrast, another company proved so bad on my trip in December that I ditched them there and then and found a company to replace them. Let’s just say it was a large communications company who can’t communicate for toffee. I was stopped from going into the shop as there was a ‘queuing system’ and I had to report to an employee before being allowed to enter (despite there being no queue and no notice of one), and when I did see an assistant he proved so rude and uninterested in my problem that I made up my mind there and then to finally take my business elsewhere. I’m still waiting for the refund the assistant said he would process ‘later on, if I remember’. Great service, eh?

This week’s bad communication wasn’t actually so bad when I think back to December.

cross, bad service

The difference between keeping a customer and losing one can simply boil down to how you treat them. I’m sure many of you have stayed with a provider because, although they may not be the best in the world, they are a pleasure to deal with.

When running your freelance business, you strive to be the best you can be, but how you deal with clients has a huge impact.

It’s true, there are clients from hell who are demanding and those that don’t really know what they want, as well as lovely clients you relish working with, but you have to communicate with them as best you can. And don’t forget – they have to deal with you too!

editor hiding

How to communicate and stay sane.

Putting in order the way you communicate with clients can help streamline your freelance business and keep stress at bay. But I’ll freely admit, sometimes I stray from the path – each client is an individual and sometimes, just sometimes, a more informal form of communication is needed.

The five step process:

  1. Stop talking and listen

The first thing to do when you are contacted by a client is to ‘hear’ what the client is saying, and in what language. Do they comfortably use jargon or are they unsure even when using everyday language? Listen to what your client is asking for and then translate it into what your client is actually asking for. Even if you communicate by email, ‘listen’. You are the professional so use your professional intuition to get to the real meaning of what they want.

2. Ask questions

Don’t assume you know the answer to those questions that you do need to ask. Follow up on what your client is asking for.

Ask about things like:

project scope,

timeframe,

who else is working on the project,

what has already been done,

budget.

3. Establish (and manage) expectations

When talking with a new, or returning, client you have to establish what service you will provide and what you won’t. This is one way of trying to put a halt to scope creep (but let’s admit it, it just ain’t that easy!).

Once you have established what is needed, get in writing what is expected from both sides, even if that’s just in an email. Make it very clear what you will be providing and what you won’t. Mention that anything extra will incur charges. I repeat, get it in writing.

But don’t forget what you expect from the client; give them details of your payment terms and methods, and send them your terms and conditions if you have any (although I must admit, with individual clients rather than companies, my T&Cs can be informal – I’ll do this and in return you pay me this).

However you do it, you must manage expectations or you can end up doing extra, at no charge, or the client can come back unimpressed when they don’t get what they expected.

delivery guy

4. Establish (and manage) delivery

When arranging delivery with a client you both have to be very clear on when the job will be coming in and being delivered.

              This is one of the biggest problems publishing freelances tend to have.

It’s not uncommon for a job to be booked in and the project timeframe to slide. Before you know it the job is expected to come in a few weeks late, you are left without work in the meantime and the delivery date does not change. This leaves the freelance trying desperately to meet unrealistic deadlines, working long hours and juggling jobs when the next project is on time.

Try to have something set in place for when delivery doesn’t happen. If possible have it in writing that if delivery is late either the deadline will be extended, or there will be increased renumeration. But remember, shit happens, so each project should be looked at on an individual basis, even if your contract states how late delivery will be dealt with.

Don’t forget it works both ways. Don’t commit to unrealistic deadlines and if something happens to affect when a project will be delivered, tell the client as soon as possible.

5. Ask for feedback

Heavens, this is the difficult one!

I hate asking for testimonials and feedback, mainly because it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone. However, it’s something freelances need to do, so a bit of perseverance is needed. Ask for feedback on your invoice, in your correspondence or via a feedback form.

Unlike 9–5ers we don’t get job appraisals or yearly performance reviews, so part of good communication is to ask for feedback in whatever way you feel most comfortable.

communication

Communication is never going to be easy; there will always be something to watch out for when dealing remotely with clients, but following these five simple steps will hopefully make work easier. Stop talking and listen, ask questions, establish (and manage) expectations, establish (and manage) delivery, ask for feedback.

How do you deal with client communication? Is there something I’ve forgotten? If so let me know in the comments below.

 

 

Safe Environments for Boosting Confidence

confidence rocket

Let’s follow on from last week’s post about confidence.

This week we ramp it up a little and talk about how to gain professional confidence when you sit on your own all day and the only people you talk to are those annoying individuals calling from fake call centres – the ones who want to help you with your Windows setup or your internet access (with apologies to all those poor sods who actually have to work in legitimate call centres for a living).

It’s bloody hard to remain confident when you’ve finished your training and you’re on your own. Staring at the dog. Wondering if you really did get a brilliant score on your final assessment or whether it was actually intended for the person one above you in the student database.

You may have recently completed your training, or you might have been following your freelance dream for a while, but lack of confidence creeps in and once it’s grabbed you it can make itself comfortable and stay for a while. If you don’t hit it on the head it’ll invite imposter syndrome to come and join the party. Then you’re screwed.

help and support

There’s one very good way to get that confidence back … find yourself a safe, nurturing environment where you can talk with other professionals. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy and these days you don’t even need to leave the house. Find what’s best for you and, once you’ve got over the initial introductions, you’ll know that you are among friends.

Now, this isn’t rocket science, but it’s worth looking at.

He’s my list of safe environments:

 

  • Facebook groups

Closed groups are best but open groups can be useful too. Groups allow us all to have a whinge when we need it, ask ‘stupid’ questions when our brains are tired, and share our triumphs when they happen. A closed group allows its members to feel comfortable that the outside world is kept at bay and won’t see their conversations.

Pros – You can get validation, or answers, from a huge number of people from all walks of freelance life, and from all over the world. If you join a subject specific group you can spend time with your peers, from newbies to old hands, and benefit from group wisdom.

Cons – They can be a little judgemental at times, but the best are moderated well.

 

  • LinkedIn groups

Erm. Well. One day I may find a decent one where there is no tumbleweed, snarking or adverts for useless crap, but people do seem to benefit from LinkedIn groups. The trick is finding one that works for you.

Pros – Again, there is a huge number of people on LinkedIn so there’s potential to talk with professionals in your field living all over the world. Who knows, you may even get some work from contacts you make there.

Cons – Apart from the tumbleweed, snarking and adverts for useless crap, the main con is the difficulty in finding a group that works for you.

internet icons

 

  • Society forums

For me these are invaluable. You are among friends, you all abide by the same rules and there are very few snarks. The groups are also fairly small and concentrated around your professional society so they can do wonders for your confidence levels.

Pros – There aren’t so many people that the conversations are hard to keep track of, but enough people hanging around to talk to when you may need it. Often there are subforums that concentrate on one type of professional area so you can get straight to the point if you need help.

Cons – You can end up nipping in and spending hours hanging around the forums when you should be working.

 

  • Peer reviews

So this is where a group of you get together to help each other, either online or in *gulp* real life. You can share work and ask for feedback, or all work on the same material and see how your work differs from each other. Peer reviews are a safe environment … for the brave.

Pros – It’s very liberating to see how different people approach work. It makes you realise that there’s more than one way to handle your work, and by talking it through you can get validation that your way is just as valid as everyone else’s.

Cons – It really isn’t for the nervous. While peer reviews offer a safe environment it does take guts to sit with your fellow professionals and talk things through.

 

  • Mentoring

If you can get a mentor, they can be amazing. Get one either through a formal process, such as the SfEP mentoring process, or approach a fellow professional who you admire and who you know will be receptive.

Pros – You will be guaranteed a no-bullshit, straight to the point dialogue with a seasoned professional in your field. If you are doing something incorrectly they will tell you.

Cons – Mentors can be expensive, unless you are really lucky and manage to come to an agreement. You need to find someone that you gel with as there’s nothing worse than a personality clash with a mentor.

freelance high five

OK, we may not high-five when we meet up, but editors do like a good get together.

  • Local groups

Joining a local professional group can be amazing. You get to meet face-to-face every month or so, often over lunch or a drink in the local hostelry, and chat with fellow professionals. This is a social occasional as well as a professional one, so can be a very informal form of networking.

Pros – A nice, informal environment where you can learn, ask questions and chat with your peers. Often there are workshops or group peer reviews, but on the whole it’s a very informal affair.

Cons – Getting there. If, like me, you live miles away from anywhere or if you rely on public transport/babysitters/getting up the gumption to move, you may find it difficult getting to, or scheduling in, local group meetings.

 

  • Conferences

My final safe environment. Conferences can be costly but are so worth it. You get to meet people you’ve spoken with over social media, forums and Facebook. You get to meet people you’ve never met and you get to meet up with old friends.

It’s scary but I can’t stress enough how much good going to a conference will do you. Don’t stress over what to wear – hell I gave that up years ago. Be comfortable and be yourself. At a conference no one gives two figs about what you’re wearing or that you’ve come armed with an industrial sized notepad and a year’s supply of Haribo.  Get to a conference. If you are nervous, tell people! They probably are too.

Pros – Conferences are safe environments in which to learn, network and gain validation that you are the same as every other freelancer out there. You are pulled out of your comfort zone safely, among friends and will get the chance to drink lots of coffee with other nervous freelancers. The food is usually good too.

              Cons – They can be costly once you add up conference costs, travel, accommodation and time off work.

 

 

So there you have my confidence-enhancing safe environments for freelancers. I’ll bet I’ve missed some too, so feel free to tell me your confidence tricks in the comments below.