What makes somebody a professional? At the most basic level, it’s earning your stripes well enough that perfect strangers will pay you to work for them. By those broad standards I already consider myself a professional editor, but there’s more to it than that. Laurels aren’t for sitting on. It’s one thing to be approached by indie authors or hired by small-press publishers, but quite another to be recognised by industry peers and leaders in the field. To that purpose, and to boost my ongoing professional development, I have now joined the CIEP.
I was, I confess, conflicted about this decision. I’ve spent a long time getting to a place where I can comfortably judge myself by the progress I’ve made instead of seeking validation elsewhere. Did I really want to dive into another career scrum, trying to jostle my way to the top? Emphatically, no. I’m done with that mentality. But then…does it have to be that way? Could I not approach the Institute and its members as team-mates rather than competitors? It’s not like there’s a shortage of work out there; I just need to get better at outreach.
That, of course, is the rub. Balance sheets don’t care about personal development. This isn’t a game, it’s survival. If I want to be in business I have to mean business etc.
Look, I’m happy with my general direction, and my workflow has been pretty good since I started to freelance full-time. Trouble is, it hasn’t increased enough. Not to be sustainable. I’ve had to rely more on my redundancy package than I’d first anticipated and that’s started to play on my mind. It’s early days yet, I know, and financial feast and famine is the norm for many freelancers, but I had hoped to create some *consistency, grow a little quicker over the past 10 months. The double whammy of Brexit and Covid has undoubtedly damaged my client base yet – in the absence of **hard evidence – I have zero recourse to financial support from the Government.
If I want The Fine-toothed Comb to thrive, I need to up my game. Get into the big leagues. That means finding ***clients with more resources e.g. bigger publishers or corporate work, and cultivating repeat custom.
Tricky. Bigger clients would tend to either use in-house editors or go through agencies. Some will have a list of approved freelancers but, at the very least, they need to know that the Editor they’re hiring has passed a certain benchmark. Yup. There we have it: the opening. If I want to make a break for it, reach that position of opportunity, I’m going to have to get that seal of approval first. There’s no two ways about it. The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading is the undisputed home of professional editing in the UK. Their logo alone is enough to unlock certain doors.
So, yeah. I’ve joined the Institute, and it’s been an eye-opener. Their website felt a little intimidating at first, if I’m honest, but the technical resources available to members are second to none.
In addition to the Forums (which themselves provide a vast network of experience to draw on and contribute to), there are free downloadable guides on all kinds of industry topics (from ‘Going Solo’ and ‘Pricing a project’ to ‘Punctuation’ and creating ‘Your house style’); discounts on diverse professional necessities such as training courses, Cyber Insurance, the PerfectIt editorial software for Microsoft Word; a treasure trove of historic articles to pick through; and of course, members have the right to use the CIEP logo on our marketing.
Plenty to keep me busy between editing jobs and over the weekends!
I haven’t started using the logo yet; there are some i’s to dot and t’s to cross first, and I want to get some proper advertising materials together. Make a bit of a splash. There may even be a website redesign in the offing soon to make the most of it—though that depends on time and resources. In the meantime, I’ll keep on keeping on: editing whenever needed, blogging each week, recording my audio, and getting myself out there. It’s a good old life, for all its difficulties.
Before I wrap this up, I just want to acknowledge some of the extraordinary friends and mentors I’ve met along the way, each of whom has either helped to raise me up or given me valuable insights. They deserve a shout-out and any business you can put their way, so bookmark these links if they seem like your kind of people.
Amanda Rutter was the first editor to welcome me, answer my questions and offer me encouragement. In addition to her editing work, she has now become a literary agent. I hear nothing but good things. Louise Maskill edits non-fiction in the main, but her wonderful story in Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies was what brought us together as friends. Between them, Louise, Linda Nagle (the multi-talented mind behind Devil Editing) and Charlotte Bond (writer, podcaster and editor) have been cheerleaders, confidants and my companions on this journey. I’ve learned a lot from them and, wherever possible, return the favour. Huge thanks to my friend Andra for helping solve my recent website problems. You’re a life-saver!
Last, but by no means least, I want to thank the magnificent Megan Kerr, a poet and writer, teacher and friend who has been there for me from the infancy of my career, offering guidance and support at every turn. More than anybody else, she has helped me to start thinking like a professional. Her advice has been thoughtful, practical, well-informed and wise.
We none of us get through life entirely on our own merits. There’s always somebody there to help us take the strain, to offer a kind word or a nugget of wisdom when we least expect it. At this point I don’t know if The Fine-toothed Comb will become self-sustaining; I don’t know if professionalising through the CIEP will catapult me into the big leagues I hope for or simply provide me with team-mates and a little education. Whatever happens, whenever it happens, I’ll let you know. And if I can help you along the way? Well, just ask. I like to pay these things forward when I can.
* Stuff being rich, I just want to know the monthly bills are covered. That’s why I set up my Affordable Payment Plan, hoping to smooth the flow by enabling clients to spread the cost.
** I started freelancing full-time in November 2020, so there are no equivalent pre-pandemic figures with which to compare. Ho hum, this is the life I chose. It still beats drudgery. I just have to figure out a way to make it pay better.
*** In addition to my wonderful small-press and indie clients—not replacing them.
Should you be unfamiliar with the kind of business I run at The Fine-toothed Comb, I recently set out my Principles, promises and values.
My audio recordings continue apace, with The Room Next Dropping next week. I have just bought some new equipment and the sound quality has massively improved. You can find all of my performed readings here.