Eva van Emden

Freelance Editor and Certified Proofreader


October 15, 2015

Project management at Beyond the Red Pencil: Editing in the 21st Century

I really admire how good project managers keep their eye on the goal. If someone doesn’t do their job or a problem shows up, it’s easy to get upset and hung up on the problem; project managers stay calm and focus on what has to be done to make the project succeed. To find out more about how PMs do what they do, I went to the panel discussion on project management at the Beyond the Red Pencil: Editing in the 21st Century conference.

How do people get into project management?

It seems there’s a certain personality type for people who become PMs, so if you organized your toys when you were five, you may have what it takes. One panellist said he became a project manager out of self-defence. When he was an editor, he would go around the office and hurry up the writers so that he could go home on time. If you want to move from another type of work into project management, pay attention to the project management tasks you already do and claim those as expertise.

Some project management skills and strategies

  • Maintain a real respect for everyone in the project. The project manager needs to know how long tasks take and what’s involved, and most of all, respect the work.
  • Be very understanding of other people’s challenges.
  • Take note of the things that repetitively take your time, and take the time to automate or streamline those tasks.
  • Prioritize the trade-offs between cost, timeline, and quality.
  • Ignore problems until they go away. No, really. Have a contingency plan, but remember that some problems will be cancelled out by other problems.
  • See problems before they happen. Consider what can go wrong and what you can do about it.

Project managers and freelancers

Working with freelancers is a special challenge for project managers because freelancers are only available for certain blocks of time. If your schedule changes, it often means having to find a different freelancer to do the work.

To stand out as a freelancer, don’t just do the work on time. Check in before the project starts to let the PM know you’re on track and find out whether anything has changed. If you finish early, deliver early! If you’re going to be late, tell the PM as soon as possible. Provide a realistic later delivery date, or provide options for having someone else take over the work. And a little secret: yes, a Friday afternoon delivery is probably functionally the same as a Monday morning delivery. Ask for the weekend if you need it.

The freelance project manager

  • Fees: you may charge an hourly rate or make the project management a percentage of the project fee.
  • You can present a menu of services, but can get too detailed and complicated. Keep the description of your services fairly simple.
  • Whether you charge an hourly rate or not, always track your time so that you learn how long things take.

Project management tools

Most of the panellists used fairly simple software support, generally something based on a spreadsheet that could be printed on a big sheet of paper. One panellist had experience with a complex time tracking system, but found that it was too time-consuming to use; people either didn’t use it or entered fake information to match what their supervisors wanted to see.

August 12, 2015

Erasable pens for proofreading

I’ve started proofreading with Pilot Frixion erasable pens recently. Unlike the messy erasable pens of the eighties, these ones work like a dream, without spreading eraser rubbings or wearing out the paper. These pens work with heat: as you rub the plastic knob on the back of the pen over the ink, it produces heat that makes the ink transparent.

I particularly like the red pen for proofreading on paper. I prefer pen over pencil for proofreading because it shows up better and is clear and sharp for making small marks. The problem has always been trying to keep things tidy when I can’t erase my marks. I was very fond of the Bic Wite-Out correction tape for covering up mistakes, but erasing them is far better.

So far I’ve tried the blue 0.7 mm Frixion Ball and the red 0.5 mm Frixion Point, and I like them both. The colour of the ink is nice, and they use a gel ink that isn’t greasy and doesn’t run or smudge. I don’t know whether anyone has had a problem with the ink fading under hot conditions (like a car dashboard in the sun), or whether the erased marks can be made to show again, but I haven’t noticed any problems with durability.

Edit: So it turns out that if you leave a freshly microwaved cup of tea sitting on your notebook, you can in fact erase your ink wholesale. This is a little disconcerting—what if someone puts my proofed manuscript down on a radiator and bleaches out two hundred pages’ worth of edits? The thought gives me the willies. A quick experiment with the freezer suggests that recently erased marks become visible again when exposed to cold, but more work is needed.

June 20, 2015

“When to use bad English” with James Harbeck (Editors Canada Conference 2015)

James Harbeck gave a great talk on when to use “bad” English. Bad English in this case means nonstandard English: ungrammatical constructions, jargon, slang, and vulgarity. And the first lesson for editors is that you should use bad English when it’s not bad. Some of the rules taught in the past never had much basis in logic, grammar, or common usage, and are now widely dismissed as superstitions. So go ahead: split infinitives and end your sentences with prepositions.

James has posted a writeup of his talk on his blog Sesquiotica.

“Honing your elevator speech” with Laura Poole (Editors Canada Conference 2015)

“What do you do?” People ask each other this question all the time, and how many of us can summarize the scope of our business activities, convey the extent of our expertise and enthusiasm, and make the listener want to know more, all in the amount of time it takes for an elevator to travel a few floors? I know I can’t—yet.

Laura Poole, a freelance editor herself, gave us some tips on how to get your message across.

Goal of your speech

  • Remember that your goal is to start a conversation.
  • Adapt your speech to fit the person you’re talking to. If you’re talking to your editing colleagues, you can say “I do a lot of substantive editing,” but for the general public, it might be better to say, “I edit and proofread books and magazines.”
  • Consider what you want people to know, and what’s unique about you.

Delivering your speech

  • Smile and make eye contact. Use a conversational tone of voice and show your enthusiasm.
  • Memorize the speech so that you don’t have to think about the words. That lets you pay attention to delivering your speech effectively.
  • If this kind of speaking doesn’t come naturally to you, try to pretend that you’re someone who does enjoy it.

Bonus tip

To keep your hand from getting crushed in a handshake, try shaking hands with your index finger (or first two fingers) sticking out along the inside of the other person’s wrist.

June 19, 2015

Editors Canada conference 2015

Newly certified editors. Photo courtesy of Paul Cipywnyk. All rights reserved.

I’m back from the Editors Canada’s 2015 conference “Editing Goes Global.” I have jet lag, a new copy of Merriam–Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, a stack of business cards, a list of LinkedIn invitations, a pile of receipts, and notes all over the place.

Conference co-chairs Gael Spivak and Greg Ioannou did an amazing job of putting together the conference. The attendance was the highest ever, and people attended from as far away as India and Australia.

Some highlights included John McIntyre on newspaper writing (some articles can’t be fixed), Carol Fisher Saller on assertionists, Sue Archer and Suzanne Purkis on networking (including the defensive handshake), Joe Kimble on legalese (the myth of precision: legalese isn’t really more precise than plain language), and James Harbeck on when to use bad English (to make yourself seem like “just folks”). Christina Vasilevski kindly invited me to stay with her during the conference, so I also got to chat about some of my favourite fiction on the way into town each day. An important part of the conference is awards and recognition. At the annual general meeting, I got my certified proofreader certificate, and at the awards banquet I was thrilled to see fellow Editors BC member Grace Yaginuma win the 2014 Tom Fairley award. Finally, I put a lot of faces to names as I met people who I’d only exchanged email with.

As I catch up, I’ll post some summaries from the sessions I went to.