My relationship with today’s interviewee proves the power of networking – I met her at a Society of Young Publishers event in Leeds after befriending her on Facebook in a Proofreaders and Editors group. Helen supported me a lot through my job hunt (and trust me, I never let anybody on Facebook forget that I was job hunting!) and told me about the two Editorial Assistant vacancies at Emerald Group Publishing near where she lives (I was successful in applying for the second one!) Not only this, but as my interview was at 8 am after a gruelling 4-hour coach and train journey, she picked me up from the train station and drove me to the Emerald offices. She sat with me and gave me advice and support until I plucked up the courage to go in there, and then picked me up and took me for tea and toast (ALWAYS a winner if you want something from me!) before I headed back to Hull. I owe a lot to this woman, and I admire her a lot. I only hope to be as good an Editor as her one day!
Never underestimate the power of networking, folks! Not only do you get to make lasting friendships, but you never know just how valuable those friendships can be in helping each other advance in their careers. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to repay the favour for her one day.
Tell me a little bit about your background.
After graduating I worked for 8 years in the NHS in Lancaster as an admin officer and then a personnel officer.
How did you get into editing and proofreading?
While on maternity leave from my NHS job I decided I’d like a change of direction. I took a distance learning course in proofreading and then started sending my CV to publishers. I took on my first proofreading job at the end of 1995.
Did you find the transition to self employment to be a challenge? Did you feel excited or scared?
It was a challenge in some ways, although I’d already left the ‘9 to 5’ world of work, so that side of things wasn’t as much of a shock. I was excited, as I loved the work and enjoyed the flexibility and variety.
How long have you had an interest in editing and publishing?
Since I decided on my change of career. It wasn’t something I’d thought about before that.
What three things would you say are essential for a freelance editor to have?
Perseverance, flexibility, and a good supply of Yorkshire Tea.
…it’s a good idea to be on the look-out for new sources of work all the time.
Do you focus on a particular type or genre of writing?
I’ve always worked on non-fiction, although the type of work I do has varied over the years. In the beginning I proofread a lot of self-help/instructional books. Now I mainly edit material for non-native-English authors, including reports for an EU agency and journal articles for academics.
What are the biggest challenges and advantages you face as a freelancer?
The biggest challenges are, I suppose, the isolation and the lack of security. You don’t have the support of colleagues, as you would in an office environment, for example, and that can be an issue both professionally and socially. In terms of security, I’ve learnt over the years that it’s no good putting all your eggs in one basket, client-wise. I had one regular client who stopped using freelancers almost overnight, but luckily I had other sources of work to fall back on. As well as having a range of clients to keep you busy, it’s a good idea to be on the look-out for new sources of work all the time.
With more and more publishers outsourcing editorial work to freelancers, what must you do to keep yourself ahead of the competition?
Demonstrating your skills in the form of qualifications or professional status is important (I’m an advanced member of the SfEP). As much as anything, though, it’s about making sure clients can find you, and making sure you do a good job for those clients so that they come back for more (and recommend you to others!).
How do you keep yourself actively involved in the publishing industry while working at home?
Being a member of the SfEP is a great way of keeping yourself involved, whether that’s through the members’ forum, the magazine or the annual conference. But social media is also useful for finding out what’s going on, both in the UK and around the globe.
What do you like to read in your spare time?
I usually read fiction, although I’ve just finished Alan Johnson’s This Boy (the first volume of his autobiography), which I’m reading for my book group. Another memoir I enjoyed recently was Catherine Gildiner’s After the Falls, the follow-up to one of my favourite books of all time, Too Close to the Falls.
As a fellow Northerner in the publishing industry, what are your views on the clear North/south divide in publishing? Do people in the North have enough of a say or enough opportunity to have their voices heard in the industry?
Since my clients aren’t ‘traditional’ publishers, I don’t particularly feel this North/South divide. In fact, most of my clients are based overseas, so the North/South divide doesn’t affect me as much as it would other people working in the publishing industry.
I guess the only thing I notice is that a lot of the interesting publishing-related events tend to be in London, which is a shame.
Your favourite writers and books?
I don’t have a favourite author as such. I’ve enjoyed the novels of John Irving, Magnus Mills, Donna Tartt, Patrick Gale, Anne Tyler, Robertson Davies, Ian McEwan… (in no particular order).
You can find out more about Helen and her proofreading, editing and copywriting services here.
Follow her on Twitter @HelenSaltedit
Find out more about the SfEP here.