The most productive relationships between writers and their editors/proofreaders come about when both parties explain themselves clearly from the outset. If you’re reading this because you’re the writer, then we’re talking about the brief. If you’re reading this because you’re the editor or proofreader, we’re talking about the way we explain the services we offer. That we will cover next week.
Putting ourselves in each other’s shoes when we make first contact is the surest way to quickly identify whether the fit looks good enough to continue the conversation. First, let’s don the editor’s shoes.
Writers — stepping into the shoes of the editor or proofreader
From the writer’s point of view, finding the right editorial professional can be a tricky and time-consuming process. Whether you’re an academic, self-publishing author, business executive, student, educational institution, charity, or NGO, you want a high-quality service that’s worth the money you’re going to invest. Given that the internet is awash with people claiming to be able to help, many writers find that even the idea of finding a professional editor/proofreader brings on a headache.
And yet, as a professional proofreader, I often receive introductory emails from potential customers that go something like this: “My book needs proofreading. How much do you charge and when can you start?” Unfortunately, there’s no way I can supply the customer with the information they want based on what they’ve told me — all I can do is ask more questions. That means the customer’s no further forward than they were prior to emailing me, other than knowing that my email address is live and has a human being at the end of it.
On the other hand, when the writer steps into my shoes, the request for a quote looks very different. When you give me the information I need to make an initial assessment of what the job looks like, I can respond in detail — enabling both of us to make a good first guess about whether we’re a potential match. The following information points enable me to work out whether I can help you:
- Working title of project
- Subject area
- Number of words
- Format (Word, PDF, paper, etc.)
- The approximate date the file will be available for commencement of the work
- Your preferred deadline for completion of the work
- Which professional service you want (critiquing, structural editing, copyediting, proofreading). They are different!
- Which editorial processes the project has already been through
- A sample chapter of the project
Here’s an example of good practice that I recently received from a potential client:
I am a first-time author with a work of fiction set during World War One. I am looking for an experienced proofreader/copyeditor with a proven track record. This book is 475,000 words long. I thought I’d touch base and see if this is a subject that might interest you. My aim is to have the book ready for self-publishing before April of 2014 with a lead in to the centenary in August.
Some questions …
- Could you please supply me with a breakdown of costs for your services?
- Can you manage the time constraint considering the magnitude of the work?
- When could you start if I were to hire you?
- Approximately how long would it take to complete?
- Can you supply me with references?
With best wishes,[Customer’s name]
This told me everything I needed to know about whether I’d be a good fit for this writer. In this instance, I knew I wasn’t. While I matched some of his requirements — I’m experienced, I have a proven track record of working with self-publishing authors, I can supply excellent references, and I can outline my fee structure — on the others I fell down. He wanted a copyeditor (I’m strictly a proofreader), and the size of the project was too big for me to handle given the demands of my existing bank of regular clients.
I immediately emailed him, thanking him for the opportunity to quote and explaining why I wasn’t the appropriate person for the job. I also recommended two colleagues whom I believed would fulfil his criteria. He replied one final time — to thank me for my help and professionalism and to say that he’d definitely bear me in mind for any future proofreading work. The exchange between us took only a few minutes because both parties knew exactly what was required from the word go. His detailed initial request enabled both of us to communicate quickly and clearly.
In the next post, Louise will help us step into the writer’s shoes, framing your response to the customer in terms of the value you offer.
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Louise Harnby is a UK-based freelance proofreader with 23 years’ publishing experience. She specializes in working with academic presses publishing in the social sciences and humanities, and with publishers and independent writers of fiction and commercial non-fiction. She trained with the London-based Publishing Training Centre and is an Advanced Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.
Louise hosts The Proofreader’s Parlour, a blog that offers information, advice, opinion, comment, tips, resources and knowledge sharing on proofreading and editing. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers (reviewed on this blog), a start-up guide that helps new editorial freelancers to prepare themselves for setting up and running an editorial business, and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business, due for publication in spring 2014. You can contact her via her website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader or on Twitter as @LouiseHarnby.