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Why you need to be human to produce a good transcription

Suitably funereal transcription kitWhen I receive a recording for a new transcription client and tell them I’ve loaded it into my transcription management software, I’m sometimes asked if that does the transcribing for me. Um, no.

While there are of course software packages out there that are very good at working with a single voice dictating, even those can sometimes struggle. I know this, because I’ve edited work that has been dictated in this way – and it can often be rife with homophones.

Why use a human transcriber?

I’ve been providing transcription services for several years now. While a machine might be suitable for taking down the words of a single, non-accented speaker enunciating clearly into a good quality recording apparatus, with no background noise, no interruptions and no acronyms or jargon, the projects I’ve worked on have included some or all of these features:

  • High levels of background noise – interviews in cafes with espresso machines whooshing and spoons clinking in cups
  • People talking while they’re eating and eating while they’re talking
  • Interruptions from waiters / room service / other members of the band or group
  • High levels of tape noise leaving me straining to hear what anyone’s saying
  • Multiple speakers including many people with similar voices around a conference table
  • Overlapping speech
  • Non-native English accents or heavy regional accents
  • Very technical content – jargon and acronyms galore
  • Creative content – album names, track names, novel titles, band names, author names
  • Requests to provide the transcription missing out ums and ers through to smoothing the English to make it read as standard English

As a native English speaker specialising in working with music journalists and non-native speakers of English, I can cope with all of these, with some rewinding and checking. I doubt that the most sophisticated dictation software could do so, as yet. I might be wrong of course (let me know if I am!).

Understanding what’s being said on a transcription

The first issue is actually hearing and understanding what’s being said. I have a good ear and a native English speaker’s ability to predict what will come next in a sentence / how sentence structures work, plus my experience working with speakers of and texts in non-native English allows me to do this for native Arabic, Chinese, Eastern European language etc. speakers. My ear can filter out background noise where sophisticated software can only go so far. And I can hear around the clink of teaspoons or glasses chinking to grasp what’s being said.

Checking the content in a transcription

When one of my journalist clients sends me a tape, I check who the musician / band is and look them up (usually on Wikipedia for the general information, as their own websites are usually a bit harder to plumb for information). When I’m working on an international conference I will seek out or be given a conference schedule, list of attendees, etc. When I’m working with technical content I will look up information on that topic.

All this allows me to produce a transcription which the client will not have to check for themselves, or if they do check it (which I do recommend), there won’t be too much to change. And I won’t be embarrassed by too many mis-hearings. Just try popping a few names of country leaders, bands or albums into a Word document and running a spell checker and imagine what an automated dictation program would do with these terms!

Speech on a tape to words in a document

Very occasionally I’ll be asked to record exactly what the people on the tape say, including ums, ahs, repetitions and pauses. At the moment, I’m transcribing some roleplays for students learning how to operate a telephone helpline. Here it’s important to capture all the nuances of the conversation and I’m splitting the utterances into sections, numbering them, and including all the ums and ahs.

Normally, my clients will require some smoothing out.

  • Most of my journalists like to have an indication of when their subject slowed down or had to mull over something and ask me to include notes of those pauses.
  • Business people producing podcasts and telecasts often want a fairly accurate transcription, but smoothed out to eliminate ums, ahs, pauses and repetitions, so they have a good product to sell or include in packages for their clients.
  • Some international conferences want to avoid embarrassment for their delegates by having their English rewritten as I transcribe to appear as close as possible to native British (or American) English
  • I have worked with authors who start off with a tape and want it to turn into something they can publish as a book (this, unlike all of the other options, involves two processes: transcription and then heavy editing and rewriting).

Why should I use a human transcriber and not a software program?

2 topsI think I’ve answered that for you now. You should also consider using a human transcriber who’s a native speaker of the language you’re having transcribed: there are websites out there where you can find very cheap transcribers; they are often not going to be native English speakers and while they will get the gist of the tape down, I’d be unsure whether they could give you the service you needed.

I’ve written another article about how to get into transcribing as a job and how to prepare yourself for what is often a fun and rather creative area of work, and one about the technology transcribers use.

In the meantime, if you’re thinking of booking in a transcriber, do have a look at my page about my transcription services, and get in touch if you want to ask about what I can do for you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into a transcriber’s work! Do leave a comment if you have …

My book is out now: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

 

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More resources to read and share

Just a quick not for new readers of this blog: if you’ve enjoyed my post on Customising Track Changes, there are many more articles and series to read.

On this blog, which is my professional language and small business area, you can find all sorts of posts about using Word, as well as posts to help other small businesses and some resources for students.

Do take a look at the category cloud in the right-hand column for more.

Over on the Libro full time blog, you’ll find more personal  reflections on my journey towards full time self-employment and my experiences in my first year of working completely for myself; the most recent post on there is about being self-employed and getting ill, and you’ll also find book reviews, Iris Murdoch stuff and information about my e-book. This page explains the connection between all these disparate elements.

I post at most once a day on one or other of the blogs, and most of my articles are fairly short, so you can subscribe with confidence if you’re not signed up already!

Do enjoy – and don’t forget to use the share buttons if you particularly enjoy a post, so others can read it too. Thank you for your interest in my pages and posts!

Contact me via email or via my contact form.

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Posted by on October 5, 2012 in Blogging, What Do I Do?

 

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What I got up to in April

Welcome to my April round up of what I’ve been getting up to. Do you find these round-up posts interesting? Would this series be better on my Libro Full-Time Blog? Do leave a comment, click on the share buttons or share my notifications on various social media locations!

Being self-employed full time

I was pretty busy for most of April and had to abandon a few attempts to get to networking events, but I did manage to make it to the Elizabeth Taylor Day in Reading and the BookCrossing meetup in town. I’m also much better at not worrying if it’s a quiet week. If it is quiet, I make sure I get some rest, catch up with my reading or work on my research project, rather than fretting.

Editing, writing, transcribing and proofreading

I’ve been busy with a variety of projects throughout April.

I started off the month finishing a batch of transcriptions for the international organisation I work for regularly. I also helped to recruit a few more transcribers for them, as I’m ideally placed to tell people EXACTLY what it’s like and make sure their expectations are set (“so, you’re going to be typing like a maniac for 8 hours a day, listening to non-native speakers of English talking about international affairs and taking their presentations down in a way that turns them into native English …”)

I did more work with my Master’s students including some pretty intense work to get their essays finished off for the beginning of the summer term, as well as proofreading other essays and dissertations for the student proofreading company I work for. In fact, looking back, it’s been a lot about the students this month!

I didn’t do a lot of writing for clients this month, but I did manage to finish writing my e-book (How I Conquered High Cholesterol) which is now in beta-testing and will shortly be available via Amazon.

I did a fair bit of US to UK English localisation for a couple of my clients, including working on a technical manual for some medical equipment, which was unusual and interesting! I do like the intellectual challenge of working out what “we” would say in a given situation, although I have to go off and refocus my mind when swapping between the two languages!

I’ve helped one regular client start to shape some blog posts into book form by editing them for consistency and taking out all the redundant bits, and I’ll be doing more editing for her in the coming month or so.

I’ve worked with the usual translators, too, of course – most of my clients are ongoing regulars now, which I like a lot!

Blogging and tax

I would be amazed if anyone didn’t know that I’d done my tax return in April (but here’s why, including the full horror of Going On To Payment On Account). Anyway, I know where I stand and what I’ve got to pay in tax this year, that’s all set aside and I’ve given myself the balance, so all set for a slightly less constrained year.

I’ve continued adding to my series of articles about using Word and my series of interviews with fellow small businesses , and I decided to put together a resource guide to the information to be found on my blog for businesses, students and Word users.

I published another five-sentence monthly newsletter – do sign up here for a quick read!

In more sociable news, I helped at the city centre Social Media Surgery session, and attended Social Media Cafe as usual (I wouldn’t miss that for the world). Finally, over on the Libro full-time blog I’ve added a few new resolutions to my list for Home Workers!

Coming up – transcription madness

I’m booked in for more transcription from late May into June, so I’ll turn into a hermit then (but I can’t wait to find out what happens to all the ongoing projects the organisation is working on!). Until then, I’m currently working on a rather technical geology text as well as the usual ongoing student, translator and editing bits and bobs.

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proofreading, transcription, typing and localisation services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more!

 

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What I got up to in March

Welcome to my March round-up of what I’ve been getting up to. Do you find it useful/interesting/inspiring reading these posts about the life of an editor / writer / transcriber / small business person? Do leave a comment, click on the share buttons or share my notifications on various social media locations if you do!

Being self-employed full time

Libro continues to go from strength to strength and I’ve settled into a nice routine of enough work to keep me nicely busy (and to keep the wolf from the door) while having the flexibility to pop to a networking event or just a walk in the park with a friend.

Editing, writing, transcribing, proofreading

So, work-wise I have had a busy and interesting time.

I edited a really interesting set of EU documents for a French company that was new to me, and apart from that it was pretty well all regular customers all month.

I am working with some Master’s students through their courses, giving them feedback about their English and offering ways to improve it, as well as proofreading their essays. This is really rewarding, as I see them taking on board what I suggest and their English improving. It’s also interesting to see how their ideas for their dissertations start to take shape.

I did the usual writing for some commercial clients, including finishing off writing a library of 50 x 500 word articles for one particular client who wanted to build up a library of information on their website that would also boost their SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It’s a challenge to build up that many words on a network of inter-related subjects, including making sure there was room for plenty of linkage to help the visitor navigate through the information on offer, but I enjoyed being able to make it genuinely informative for the reader as well as useful for the client in terms of driving people to their website and keeping them there for as long as possible

I proofread a few PhDs or parts of PhDs, including some really interesting ones in the social sciences. I always tend to learn about what I’m editing, so it’s nice when it’s something I genuinely find interesting (luckily, I can find something of interest in pretty well everything I work on … otherwise I think I would probably be in the wrong job!)

I picked up a new localisation client or two and will be working with at least one of them long term: localisation is a nice intellectual challenge, as it’s not just about turning color into colour but really thinking about how British and American English work and getting right into the guts of the text.

I’ve worked with the usual translators, too, including on some interesting annual reports of companies (yes, I sign a lot of Non Disclosure Agreements) and at the end of the month I went into hermit mode as I had another big project from my main transcription clients, so typing away like a demon with headphones jammed into my ears (and then going to the gym to row out my stiff shoulders) has been the order of the day.

Networking, videos, blogging

In non-billable hours news, I featured in this video by Enterprise Nation extolling the virtues of networking and, in particular, the Twitter event #watercoolermoment, which is a gathering of home workers at 11 am on weekdays to have a chat about this and that – just like you might do in a “real” office. I also redesigned this website and blog – I really love the new look, what do you think?’

I’ve added some new posts to my series of articles about using Word, which are hopefully useful to students, writers and administrators alike, and my series of interviews with fellow small businesses is building nicely – there’s space in May if you’d like to take part!

Oh, and for a while now, my monthly newsletter has been only five sentences long so do sign up here for a quick read!

In more sociable news, I helped at the city centre and local Social Media Surgery sessions, and attended Social Media Cafe as usual (I wouldn’t miss that for the world). My local “notworking” group Kings Heath Home Workers group has a few more members and I’ve been meeting up in a cafe with a local friend once a week. I have also resolved some pressing issues around time management which I’ve talked about over on the Libro full-time blog.

Coming up – taxes and a new financial year

It’s the end of the financial year this week, and the end of mine, too. I am looking forward to getting my tax return done so I know how much of my earnings I can keep and how much is going to the taxman – although this year I will start Paying On Account, so will have to give him a lot more than usual – in fact double! Watch this space for a great guest post explaining all that later on this week. I have more transcription to do, more students to work with, more of the same – and I bet I love it as much as I did this month!

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proofreading, transcription, typing and localisation services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more!

 

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What I got up to in February

Yes, it’s that time again when you get to find out what a busy self-employed editor/writer/transcriber gets up to. I’ll carry on writing these while people carry on letting me know they enjoy them!

I’ve had another amazing month in February. I can’t really believe it’s going so well – I have described it as like that expanding foam you put into a space in your house – pff and it’s filled up the space allowed!  My new blog has been useful as an outlet through which to express myself from time to time! So, here’s a snapshot of what I got up to …

The first part of the month was heavily devoted to transcription – the client I worked for just before Christmas came back to me with another international conference to transcribe. My experience with minuting meetings and with non-native speakers of English really helped here, as I was typing out presentations and discussions by people from all around the world. Fun and interesting work, I got to share the work with some colleagues by recommending them to the client, but, my goodness, I typed a lot – I transcribed over 20 hours of conference (remembering that each hour of speech takes several hours to transcribe) and actually wore the letters off some of the keys on my computer keyboard! I put into practice the lessons I learned about avoiding RSI from the last lot, took lots of breaks, went to the gym every day for some heavy sessions on the rowing machine, and got through it fine. I like this client a lot, too, because they always come back to me quickly if I have a query.

I also did more transcription for two other regulars; a writer teaching people about marketing and a journalist interviewing musicians. Those ones were in British English and also interesting to do.

And I did do other things, too (somehow),  writing a library of 42 short articles for one regular client, articles on medical subjects for another, and putting together marketing letters/emails and web text for another.

I edited some texts that had been translated from Polish, Finnish, Dutch and Chinese, and ones written by people with French as their first language.  I edited the Moseley B13 magazine again – I do that for free and enjoy it greatly, finding out what’s going on in my local area and using my powers for good at the same time. I also did a bit of localisation for US and other clients.

There was some of the usual academic work – bits of theses, dissertations and articles. I had some more short essays from my coaching clients, who are all progressing through their Master’s courses nicely – it’s great to see their English improving as they take on board my suggestions and tips.

So a nice busy time of it! In other news, I got back into my giving back and networking, helping at a one-off local Social Media Surgery session, and attending Social Media Cafe as usual (I wouldn’t miss that for the world) although I missed the Central SMS owing to a clash with another meeting. In response to my need to have people to talk to now and then, and after testing the waters, I’ve established a Kings Heath Home Workers group on Facebook and blogged about it.

Coming up – I have some academic work booked in and I’ll be doing more transcribing towards the end of the month. I am hoping to get some time to work on my research project, as I’ll be presenting on my research at the Iris Murdoch Society Conference in September. I’ll be going to Jelly co-working session this Friday – now I’ve been to one and know how they work, I’ll be taking along some draft blog posts to write up.  I ran a competition in my newsletter last month and I’ll be announcing the winner later on today or tomorrow – if you would like to receive a short summary of Libro goings-on and interesting facts and links, do sign up here!

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proofreading, transcription, typing and localisation services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more!

 

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What I got up to in January

I’ve had a fantastic first month of being fully self-employed – I can’t really believe how well it’s gone. I wrote about goals last week, and I’m happy to say that I hit all my goals for January, including the hardest one. This is marvellous reassurance that I can do this and make a living out of it: I was expecting January to be a bit slow, and the Jury Service (that wasn’t – they didn’t call me up for any cases and I only ended up being there for four half-days) did knock out a bit of my first week, but I took the opportunity to have a bit of rest and relaxation that I’d missed out on over my very busy Christmas! More about how it’s all going in a more personal sense over on my new blog; I’ve been hugely enjoying writing that!

So, I’ve had a good mix of my usual tasks this past month:

I’ve proofread varying pieces of academic work for the student proofreading company I do work for, Master’s course work for a few students, three of whom have signed up to be coached through their course (I provide more detailed information on their particular issues with their written English and help them develop their writing while they’re learning about their subject – I also charge for this monthly or termly so they don’t end up paying lots of little invoices) and had one mammoth session on a PhD which had got delayed by the student’s tutor (I was glad not to have to go to the day job the morning after that 11-hour day!).

I’ve copyedited documents, magazine issues and articles for my regular clients, and checked the English for my Polish, Finnish and other European translator clients. I’ve checked over the articles and proofs for Moseley B13 Magazine (I do that for free).

I’ve transcribed two webinars for my author/entrepreneur client and also edited a downloadable guide to self-publishing for her (I’ll link to that when it’s out, for all you authors out there).

I’ve localised a whole load of email text for a new American client, using software called Across, which is mainly used by translators: I’m pleased to have got to grips with this as I think it will widen the range of clients I can work with.

And I’ve written lots of little bits of marketing material for a client who’s offering my services to their small business clients, as well as a series of blog posts about dentistry and most of the new web content for my retail shelving client, working with their SEO person to make sure the text and metadata both drive click-throughs to their site (it’s working well so far!)

So a nice busy time of it! In other news, I had a guest blog post published and was quoted in an article about the rise in numbers of self-employed people.  I got back into my giving back and networking, helping at a Social Media Surgery session (find out more via this article I wrote about it), and attending Social Media Cafe (where I wore a brooch made by fellow small business, Good Girl Designs and insisted on having a photo taken) and my first Jelly co-working session.  I’ve helped two friends set up WordPress blogs (Amy’s music blog and Ali’s book reviews blog).

Coming up: I’ve got returning clients and regular clients to look after, and I have another big transcription job coming up, similar to the one I did at Christmas. I’m pleased to say that I’ve got more time for reading and seeing my friends now I’m full time, which is what I had hoped for. I’m going on a half-day course on email and social media marketing, and I’m planning a slightly different kind of newsletter this month – including exclusive access to a fun competition and a new format for the newsletter itself – do sign up here to get a look at that when it comes out!

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proofreading, transcription, typing and localisation services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more!

 

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What I got up to in December

In my previous years of Libro work, December has been really quiet, as people seemed to feel they needed to leave me alone for Christmas. This was usually a bit frustrating, as the University where I worked gave us a lot of time off over Christmas and I was raring to get on with stuff with nothing to get on with. This year, I knew I had Jury Service starting in early January, so I thought I’d be able to take advantage of the downtime to get a bit of rest, get some work done on my Iris Murdoch project and pre-write all the blog posts I needed to cover the time I’d be out of the office.

It didn’t quite work out like that! I’d have been even busier than this if two big writing projects hadn’t slipped back (through no fault of my own, just circumstances). I had Christmas Day off, but apart from that I worked pretty solidly. As we all know by now, I left my library job on 12 December, and I actually corresponded with a potential client the evening of my leaving do – I must have done a decent job with the good old Blackberry, as I ended up booking in the work for that week! I then went on to a mixture of pre-booked and just-in-time work for various clients, old and new …

Edited some articles for a local academic who’s a non-native speaker, including putting the documents and bibliographies into the specific format demanded by the publications for which they were written. Also edited English translations for two agencies, one in China and one in Poland, and did the usual checking for my long-term translator client and my French HR consultant who’s writing a series of blog posts.

I transcribed quite a lot this month: a long webinar for my novelist client (more of her later) and I had a large project for an agency, transcribing presentations given at an international conference by non-native speakers of English (on the whole: things got a bit faster when I got the odd British or American presenter, but it was all interesting!).

I wrote some web text and a downloadable “dos and don’ts” piece for my retail shelving client and had a chat on the phone with their new SEO people as I’ll be writing more web content for them in the New Year.

I proofread a PhD thesis and several essays and dissertations, both for my direct clients and the ones I work for via a larger student proofreading company.  I’ve got a couple of coaching clients booked in – I proofread their work but also make suggestions on how they can improve their written English, write out lists of common mistakes they make, etc., throughout their course.

Of course, that’s what we call proofreading, but isn’t really – I did also do a proper proofread on a long sectionof a big document outlining responsibilities and guidelines for the updated manual of a professional body, comparing the new version with the older one to make sure they matched but any dates were changed appropriately.

And I did a final line-edit on a novel by a successful self-published author. I had to read the first novel in the series so I could check for continuity, noticed the odd issue in that one and ended up doing an edit on that book, too, so I spent much of Christmas Eve and Boxing Day concentrating on fast-paced religious thrillers set in various catacombs and other exciting places – not traditional Christmas fare, maybe, but very interesting!

I did manage to work half days in the week between Christmas and New Year, more or less, with just some student work to get on with. And my lovely regular clients are all aware of the Jury Service and keeping things as light as possible for these two weeks.

In the end, December was a very busy and successful month, which encouraged me to think that yes, it was a good idea to leave the Library after all! I had my best month yet for income, which meant I nearly met the biggest of my three targets for the calendar year – so I set some ambitious ones for this year, too.

Things were a bit quiet on the networking front, it being the festive season, but I did have time for some socialising, and I also started my new blog, which is going to chart my experience as I take Libro full-time.

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proofreading, transcription, typing and localisation services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more!

 

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What I’ve been up to in November

November is traditionally another quieter month, but actually I stayed pretty busy through the month and brought in more income than I did in October.  I had quite a varied month workwise, ending up doing the following …

Proofread some chapters of various PhDs and full Master’s dissertations, as well as a couple of articles which needed their bibliographies put into the format the journals required (which took longer than proofreading the text)

Copyedited a large number of documents for a client’s important project – sometimes working at very short notice and getting up very early in the morning (and getting lots of thanks and a lovely quotation for my references page, I’m happy to report!)

Did a substantive copyedit on a non-fiction/humour book – I really tore it apart, re-ordering sections and deleting chunks. There’s always the temptation to include everything you’ve researched when it’s your own book; I have no such compulsions and will rip it out if it doesn’t fit perfectly! Anyway, the author’s now going through the new version and adding references where needed, before I convert it into Kindle format and we put it up on Amazon.

Re-wrote some web text and letters for a client I “met” on Twitter.

Polished some articles for a client whose first language is French – she writes up articles about HR issues in English and I go over them for her and smooth them out into more natural English – as I do speak French, it’s useful sometimes to know what word she would have used in that language in order to express it correctly in English, so it’s a bit like translating in some respects.

Edited a Terms and Conditions document and wrote an article on overseas procurement for my retail display client.

Edited and proofread the usual Yacht Club and Moseley magazines – very different publications but with surprisingly similar issues in their layout and text!

Coached a postgraduate student who needs to get his PhD written up – we have a weekly arrangement to make sure he keeps going with it and sends me something to look at every week.

Transcribed two journalist interviews, three webinars and a corporate panel discussion – a lot of transcription this month, and a lot of keeping the heater on in my study so my fingers were warm enough to type fast!

Launched the first edition of my new Libro Newsletter; recipients told me they enjoyed it!

Attended a Social Media Cafe, where I chatted to friends old and new …

And last but not least, resigned from my part-time Library job – so I’ll be taking Libro full-time from December 13. I have started a new blog in which I’ll record what it feels like to do this – do pop along and have a read if you haven’t seen it already!

Coming up …

December is usually quiet, but I’ve got some transcribing and editing booked in already, plus I’ll be doing some work on my Iris Murdoch project. Oh, and having a rest. January sees me officially full-time with no other means of support, but I have Jury Service in the first two weeks! I’m adjusting my pricing too, and will be blogging about that in another post.

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proofreading, transcription, typing and localisation services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more!

 

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What I’ve been up to in October

October is traditionally a quieter month after the student Master’s dissertation rush of August and September, and I have certainly seen a slight drop-off in workflow, although it’s still kept ticking along. I’ve …

Edited some PhD theses – some ongoing, some in their entirety; some large documents and a PowerPoint presentation for one ongoing client (discovering that, even if you can’t Track Changes, you can stick sticky notes all over the slides); quite a few blog posts for a new ongoing client who is not a native English speaker (picking up a lovely reference along the way); and all sorts of business and academic writing for my translator client.

Edited and proofread my usual American magazine’s quarterly publication and the MoseleyB13 local magazine.

Edited two articles for publication, ensuring they conformed to the journal’s style guide.

Set up a coaching relationship with one PhD student, where we talk via email every week about the new work he’s completed in an effort to get his thesis written up this year.

Transcribed interviews for my journalist client, who’s got some cover stories in women’s magazines as well as the usual music magazine pieces, and a new client who presents teleseminars and interviews on writing and marketing your work (learning a lot as I go along!).

And I also …

Ran my fourth Birmingham Half Marathon, with a personal best time!

Wrote some blog posts on starting your own business, including starting a proofreading business, pre-launched my new Libro Newsletter by telling people about it and inviting them to sign up, and placed some more guest posts.

Attended a Social Media Cafe, where I talked through a business problem with my peers – very useful.  I attended the Kings Heath Business Association AGM and will hopefully be helping out on their committee in the New Year, and I went along to the Entrepreneur meetup and met some more lovely, enthusiastic people with great business ideas.

Phew! I’ve also received the 22nd questionnaire response for my Iris Murdoch research project, and this month/December I will be applying to present a paper on it at the next Iris Murdoch Conference and writing up some results!

Coming up …

The Big Decision is coming up now: when to take Libro full-time. Working part-time while running the business is getting tiring, and where I haven’t had to turn any work away, I have had to turn down a few opportunities for networking and other events which could potentially drive some new business my way. I also want to be able to be more flexible for my clients as to when I can do their work, and have time for my partner and my friends! So … it’s decision time this month!

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proofreading, transcription, typing and localisation services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more!

 

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Proofreading as a career – some pointers

Sometimes I feel that people think “proofreading and editing” is one of those things that anyone can do, that’s a good fall-back position if you’re looking around for something to bring in a few pounds.  I think it’s a common misconception that if someone is well-read and good at spelling, that’s going to transfer into something out of which they can make a career.  There is a bit more to it than that, and as I’ve had several people ask about it, it’s got to the point where it feels useful to put something down that I can direct future enquirers to.  So, if you’re thinking about being a proofreader and you don’t know quite what it entails, read on …

Get your terms right

If you think you want to be “a proofreader” then you probably don’t know what one is.  Sorry to be blunt!  But a proofreader is a very specific kind of job, where you check materials that are just about to be published.  It’s not going through a manuscript for a novel and commenting on it (that’s copyediting) or making suggestions on changes (that’s substantive copyediting) or checking the facts in an article (that’s fact-checking) or writing up an article from bullet points (that’s copy writing).  For more on all this, see my post on proofreading and copyediting or my skill set series.   OK: so what you want to be is a copyeditor.

Get the skills

It’s not that easy correcting someone’s grammar and making their sentences work.  Sometimes, it isn’t actually that much fun.  Of course I enjoy it, but see below for why it takes a particular kind of person. And you do need to have the theory behind the practice solidly backing you up.   One way to get the knowledge is to go on a course.  Do not look at any other courses apart from those run by the Society For Editors and Proofreaders or the Publishing Training Centre.  Yes, there are lots of other courses advertised in the paper, etc.  These are the two that the industry in the UK recognises, that publishers send their editors on.  The courses and exams are quite expensive, but so are the other ones.  SfEP has a useful test on its website that might help you decide whether you’re suited for this work.

An admission: I’m not a member of SfEP and I don’t hold their qualifications.  But, and this is a route you will need to take too, I have lots and lots and lots of experience.  Most of that experience, pre-Libro, was unpaid – editing and indeed proofreading for local publications, author friends, typing theses back in the old days before everyone had a computer.  Writing.  Writing press releases and marketing material.  Working with UK and US English.  I’m nearly 40.  Most of my working life has involved this kind of stuff.  Oh, and the English Lang & Lit and Library and Information Studies degrees helped a bit, too.

If you go into this business, you will still need to take specific tests from prospective clients, even if you have qualifications.  I tend to pass these tests with flying colours, so I can get away with not having the exams.  If I was doing this again, and I didn’t have any experience, I would take those exams.  I’m going to learn Indexing one of these days.  I’m going to take the courses and exams for that: oh yes!

Are you suited for the work?

You might want to have a look at my previous post on deciding if you’re suited to freelance work at this point. In general, freelancing in whatever area you choose will have common points.  Particular to editing are the facts that: you can’t usually do it with other people around, as it’s really concentrated work; it can be a bit repetitive if you’re working on one huge text or lots of things on the same subject (if you get into student work, clients tend to recommend you on within the same course); you really don’t get to choose the subject you’re working on, and it’s fairly rare to be something that you’ll be interested in on its own merits. There are plus sides to these points, of course: if you enjoy being alone, the first is fine, and you can take your marketing work, blogging, etc., to the local cafe; it can be soothing to press on with the same thing hour after hour; and you get to learn an awful lot about an awful lot of subjects, which can be handy for pub quizzes and the like!

And you’ve got to be happy to do this, day in and day out.  You might have to miss a cinema trip with your friends.  You might be poorly – but there’s not really sick pay as such (we’re lucky to have the NHS in the UK, of course – in other countries this point is even more important). Again, these are general points. In summary from the editing side of things: you need to be good at concentrating; nit-picky; good at going for hours with no distractions; good at finding odd topics interesting enough that you’re not wandering off to Twitter every five minutes; good at keeping to deadlines (it’s often someone else’s deadline you’re affecting if you run over time).

Dealing with clients

OK, I do have great clients who come through recommendation and send me work reasonably regularly.  But I still had to prove myself to them in the first place, and I still have to send in my invoices on time and do the work when I say I will.  You will need to be able to justify what you’ve done to someone’s work, make their work demonstrably better, come in to their deadlines, keep them informed.  It’s not just a question of sitting nicely at a desk and playing with a sentence or so, just like gardening isn’t all wandering around in a big hat with a trug, snipping at a rose every now and again. You need to market yourself, be cheeky, throw business cards at all and sundry – you can’t just sit back and expect the work to come to you.  Which brings me to my next point …

Building things up

It’s over two years since I launched Libro.  Only now am I thinking of going full-time.  Much of my work comes through repeat business (hooray for repeat customers) and recommendations.  But that’s hard work in itself.  If someone is kind enough to recommend your services to a friend, you have twice the pressure: do a good job for the client and make sure you don’t ruin their trust in the original client who recommended you.  You have to do a really good job to get these recommendations, in the copyediting that you do and in the customer care and marketing that you do.

I have found myself diversifying over the years, so I now do transcription, writing, localisation from US to UK English and all sorts of other things. Do you have skills you can add in to your basic offering, that form a good portfolio (copyediting and clowning might work, but would be difficult to market, perhaps).  The other way to go is specialisation.  I’ve done this with my localisation work, building a reputation as someone who is good at turning US into UK English, and I know copyeditors who are very well-known in their field of, for example, editing medical journal articles.  But you need an outside speciality you can bring to bear on your copyediting work if you want to go down that route (for example experience in other jobs, your previous education …).

Is this for you?

So, a summary.  If you really want to make a go of a proofreading career, which we now know is actually a copyediting career, you need to:

  • enjoy working on your own
  • have a high attention span and a very high boredom threshold (I’m not saying that the work is boring: I love it; some people would be bored silly by it)
  • write a very high standard of English (oh yes, and everything else that you send out into the world has to be perfect or people will spring on it with glee!)
  • do a fairly expensive course or have demonstrably high levels of experience
  • be prepared to work very hard
  • be prepared to work on stuff you do not find interesting
  • be prepared to do all the usual freelance stuff of losing your weekends and evenings “just to turn this project round”
  • be prepared to do marketing and customer care and maths stuff as well as playing with the order of words to make the most elegant sentence
  • have other skills you can diversify into
  • or have a very particular skill you can specialise in

I don’t want to put people off, I really don’t.  But hopefully this has given you some insight into the kind of person you need to do this kind of work, and the kind of work it actually is.  Think of copyediting as a positive choice rather than a fall-back position, and you’ll be fine. Drift into it, and you might get some work and payments, but you might be happier somewhere else.

 

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