Tag Archives: copy-editing

Celebrating four years as a publishing freelancer

May 9 2013 was the day I made my last commute into London to the company I’d worked for for thirteen years. I’d gone part-time a year earlier, but this was it – I was on my own.

So four years later… did I make the right choice?

I love being involved in book creation: editing them, proofreading them, typesetting them, making ebooks out of them. I thrive when I’m working on a diverse range of books, using a diverse skill set, which is something you’d never get to do in-house. This past [freelance] year alone I’ve edited, copy-edited, proofread, typeset or ebooked: science fiction, romantic fiction, police procedurals, Second World War submarine fiction, thrillers, quirky Edwardian detective fiction, romantic comedy, fantasy fiction, historical fiction, a lovely book about gardening and bees, a fantastic allegorical animal story for adults, a collection of academic essays, a guide to Arab culture, a mind, body, spirit title, a children’s science book (back to my roots there), a human resources guide, YA fiction about a young rock band…

During my time as a freelancer I’ve worked with large publishers, tiny publishers, new publishers, agents, established authors… I’ve helped self-publishers get their books into print and I’ve been involved in some books that you’ll never see in the shops or on Amazon Kindle, but mean so much to the people they are made for…

Talking of which, last summer I was contacted by a woman whose mother was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. Her mum had written a book and was desperate to see it ‘published’ [in print] – it was her life’s dream. The daughter knew no publisher would take it, but her mum so wanted to hold the book in her hands and her daughter so wanted to make that dream come true for her. So after much discussion about things like how far we should go with the editing and how much everything would cost, that was what we did. I tidied up the text as much as possible, given that the author wasn’t able to make any editorial decisions by this point and rarely remembered what she had written. I typeset it and had it proofread. The daughter painted a cover image, wrote blurb and a biography, and then we made it into a hardback book using Blurb.com and had a handful of copies printed for the family. Sadly, the mother died early this year, but her daughter told me she had read the book to her mum in her last days in hospital. I think about that a lot and it makes me so happy and proud that I was able to make that small wish come true for that family.

Then this year I was nominated as an Unsung Hero of Publishing, which is a recent initiative by whitefox to celebrate those of us who don’t normally get much recognition but do a lot behind the scenes of publishing. Rather aptly for me, whitefox are celebrating their 5th birthday tonight with a BookMachine event and I’m looking forward to going along.

So, did I do the right thing in going freelance? I think so, yes, and I’m looking forward to many freelance years to come. I wonder what I’ll get to work on next…?



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More joy of text – Oliver Simon’s Introduction to Typography

Introduction to Typography book


By a Typographer, I do not mean a Printer, as he is Vulgarly accounted, any more than Dr. Dee means a Carpenter or Mason to be an Architect; but by a Typographer, I mean such a one, who by his own Judgement, from solid reasoning with himself, can either perform, or direct others to perform from the beginning to the end, all the Handy-works and Physical Operations relating to Typographie.

Mechanick Exercises, or the Doctrine of Handy-works applied to the Art of Printing Joseph Moxon, 1683

Typography may be regarded as consisting of three parts: each distinct and indispensable, namely, punch-cutting, founding and printing. The practice of the different branches produces artists of three different kinds, the first punch-cutters, the second founders and the third printers, but he who combines a knowledge of all three branches is fit to be styled a Typographer.

Manuel Typographique Simon-Pierre Fournier, 1764

• the style and appearance of printed matter.
• the art or procedure of arranging type or processing data and printing from it.

Oxford Dictionary of English

This is the revised 1963 edition of Oliver Simon’s classic 1945 book – Introduction to Typography – edited by David Bland. The first two quotes are taken from the definitions of typography printed in the prelims of this edition. The third is the modern definition from the dictionary my Mac uses (the Oxford Dictionary of English according to my preferences panel). Oliver Simon was the typographer at Curwen Press from the 1920s until his death in 1956. This was in the days of the switch from physical type to film setting. I wonder what Oliver Simon would have made of things today.

Introduction to Typography book

Suitable typefaces for display type

Introduction to Typography book


I find it fascinating how processes, terminology, ideas, rules and even roles in printing and production shift and change meaning. One small example: we still refer to the author’s final ‘manuscript’, but it’s many years since I received a sheaf of typewritten pages from an author.
Another example: the role of copy-editor isn’t mentioned in this book, but what we would think of as copy-editing tasks are that of the compositor or setter. There is a section at the beginning of the book discussing what to capitalise, use of small caps, quotation marks, parentheses, italics, etc – things that modern copy-editors would concern themselves with. But the onus is much more on the author to supply a ‘carefully prepared MS. [which] must be strictly followed as to punctuation and spelling’. And Simon also notes that: ‘An intelligent interpretation of an author’s meaning by means of correctly placed punctuation marks is an art that can be acquired only by long experience, and for which no hard-and-fast rules can be formulated’. I assume that the copy-editor’s role developed as publishing increased in order to streamline the process and allow typesetters to set type quickly without having to consider the finer points of grammar and style as they went along (I remember seeing typesetters use photosetting machines – speed and accuracy were critical), and presumably as part of trade publishers’ services to authors – longer expected to supply ‘carefully prepared manuscripts’!
Today the copy-editor’s role has changed again – in many cases there is no longer a need to mark up a manuscript for the typesetter to follow – often the author’s Word document is directly amended by the copy-editor before it goes on to the typesetter (if it goes to a typesetter at all) – and sometimes these copy-editing tasks are undertaken by someone who can not only edit, but set the text professionally too. With the rise in self-publishing and small, independent publishers there are definite advantages to being multi-skilled in all aspects of putting publications together, be they print or digital. Maybe we are coming full circle? Perhaps again a typographer will be ‘…such a one, who by his own Judgement, from solid reasoning with himself, can either perform, or direct others to perform from the beginning to the end, all the Handy-works and Physical Operations relating to Typographie.’?

Introduction to Typography book


Introduction to Typography book

Discussing paper

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Copy-editing, etc, on an iPad

One of the pleasures of being freelance is that I can use any technology I like get get my books from ‘manuscript’ to ‘files to the printer’. Just recently I realised that I had been spending far too much time than was good for me or my back sitting in front of my desktop computer or at a desk reading and editing proofs.

So I’ve switched to doing most of my editing on the iPad using PDFs. I still print books out once, towards the end of the process, if they’re destined for print, but otherwise it’s an iPad and desktop relay all the way.

However I was getting a bit frustrated with trying to accurately write or mark with my right hand – when I’m left-handed. Do most left-handed people use touch screens and computer mice with their right hand? Dunno – but I do. So I bought myself this handy stylus/pen thingy which I can use with my left hand. It looks a bit like a crayon, yes. But it’s made of aluminium, so it handles like a pen. And being left-handed I can still do all the other pinchy zoomy swipey things I’m used to doing with my right hand. Result!

Hurrah! Now all I need is a way to actually edit InDesign files on the iPad…

iPad stylus

Stylus – yes it looks a bit like a crayon.

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